© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Marsha Mason, Alexis Bledel, Namrata Shirodkar, Indira Varma, Nadira Babbar, Anupam Kher, Nitin Chandra Ganatra
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Writer: Paul Mayeda Berges (based on novel by Jane Austen)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references
Running time: 122 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total Score – 6.8 of 10
What do Jane Austen and Bollywood musical have in common? The answer is BRIDE & PREJUDICE, a tongue-in-cheek musical version of Austen’s famous story. Granted, the novel has been made in motion pictures many times. By remaking it Bollywood-style, director Ghadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKAM) manages to put a fresh spin on the familiar tale.
Lalita (Rai) is one of the four gorgeous daughters in the Bakshi’s household in a small Indian town. She’s a bright-spirited and (alas!) of-age woman. Her “gold-digger” mother (Babbar) tries desperately to marry her elder daughters Jaya (Shirodkar) and Lalita off to wealthy suitors. During the wedding of one of the Bakshis’ friends, Jaya falls in love with wealthy Bingley (Andrews). At the same time, Lalita and Bingley’s American friend Will Darcy have eyes for each other. But first impression be damned. Lalita thinks Darcy, who owns hotels all over the world, is an arrogant, chauvinistic playboy. Darcy thinks Lalita is stuck-up, provincial, and rude. Their pride and prejudice keep them from really getting to know each other.
Then Lalita meets handsome and seemingly sincere Johnny Wickham (Gillies), a former servant/adversary of Darcy. She becomes very attracted to Wickham and more determined to dismiss Darcy. Oh, is Darcy jealous and concerned. But Wickham is not what Mrs. Bakshi would want for a son-in-law: he doesn’t have money. When well-to-do American accountant Mr. Kholi (Ganatra) comes to the Bakhris looking for a wife, Mrs. Bakshi is more than happy to promise him Lalita, who (again, because of her prejudice) immediately dismisses Kholi as a pig. When Kholi takes Lalita’s friend for a wife instead, he graciously invites the Bakshis to his wedding in Beverly Hills, hosted by none other than Darcy. Finally Lalita and Darcy fall in love, but misunderstanding, pride and prejudice threaten to break them apart again.
As Lalita, former Miss World and India superstar Rai is effervescent and radiant. She’s feisty when she needs to be and she can be incredibly vulnerable. Unfortunately, the tongue-in-cheek production doesn’t leave a lot of depth for her to explore her complicated character (more on that later). Pretty boy Henderson (THE RING) is charming and beautiful and all that, but he lacks certain substance as the “love him or hate him” Darcy. Most of the time, Henderson is reduced to longing stares and tongue-tied awkwardness. It’s not easy to see through him and know what makes Darcy tick. However, Henderson and Rai have great chemistry together, and like their literary counterparts, you feel that they belong to each other from the very beginning.
Gillies (SPIDER-MAN 2) is equally pretty and charming (with an undercurrent of slime) as Wickham. But his role becomes sort of a token villain. In fact, the entire cast seem to consist of extremely attractive actors: Andrews (TV’s LOST) as the loyal and romantic Bingley, Varma (MAD DOGS) as his socializing sister, Bledel (TUCK EVERLASTING) as Darcy’s sister Georgia, Shirodkar and the rest of the Bakshi girls. They all do very well in their minor roles. To complement the list of young, attractive actors, we have veteran Mason (BEREFT) as Darcy’s snobbish and controlling mother, Indian actors Babbar and Kher as the Bakshis – they all provide needed weight and comic relief to the film.
It’s really hard to take the script by writer Berges (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) too seriously. First, it’s impossible to translate the complexity of Austen's masterpiece into a two-hour musical extravaganza. And that’s where it suffers – the characters become paper-thin. All of the major characters have very unlikable qualities. For example, Lalita is stuck-up and rude. Darcy is arrogant and prejudiced. Mrs. Bakshi is a gold-digger. All the wealth and festivities and beautiful people also make us feel detached from them. Perhaps that’s Berges’ intention all along, to make the audience express the same prejudice against the characters. However, the film is too short and fluffy to fully realize these characters. We don’t get a clear sense of their transformation.
That said, the film is real eye candy, Bollywood style. Director Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) gives us a lively, colorful and fun production. Granted, some of the musical numbers are rather cheesy, but that’s the point. The screen is constantly filled with exquisite costumes, sets and locations. No doubt it’s a very entertaining, aesthetically pleasing film.
In a way, the filmmakers have wisely chosen a familiar story and seamlessly transferred it to a new culture (Indian) and time (modern day). In a way, the filmmakers has made a mistake by adapting such a rich, layered classic into a fluffy musical. But if we can lower our expectations, I’m sure we can enjoy this film without prejudice.