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BRIDE AND PREJUDICE (director: Gurinder Chadha; screenwriters: inspiration from the book Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen/Paul Mayeda Berges; cinematographer: Santosh Sivan; editor: Justin Krish; music: Anu Malik/Craig Pruess; cast: Martin Henderson (William Darcy), Aishwarya Rai (Lalita Bakshi), Daniel Gillies (Johnny Wickham), Naveen Andrews (Balraj), Nitin Ganatra (Mr. Kholi), Namrata Shirodkar (Jaya Bakshi), Indira Varma (Kiran), Nadira Babbar (Mrs. Bakshi), Anupam Kher (Mr. Bakshi), Ashanti (as herself), Marsha Mason (Mrs. Catherine Darcy), Alexis Bledel (Georgie Darcy), Meghnaa (Maya Bakshi), Peeya Rai Choudhuri (Lucky Bakshi); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gurinder Chadha/Deepak Nayar; Miramax Films; 2004-US/UK)
“Whacky Bollywood update of British author Jane Austen’s caustic comedy of manners of some 200 years ago.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) haphazardly directs this whacky Bollywood update of British author Jane Austen’s caustic comedy of manners of some 200 years ago, Pride & Prejudice (1813). It’s a merging of the kitsch styles of Bollywood and Hollywood into something more suitable for western tastes, where one expects Carmen Miranda to miraculously materialize singing and dancing with a bowl of fruit on top of her head. The film in all its goofiness, clichés, stereotyping, and formulaic plot line, bowdlerizes Austen’s classic work into pulp, though catching all its broad strokes about class and family differences but missing all the subtleties of the novel. Its energetic song and dance numbers are infectious, its sets are colorful, the costumes are elegant (eye-popping saris), and the spirited performers from India offer movie romances basted in a deliciously unreal but playful gooey sauce. But its addition of a dark subplot to its lighthearted comic tale seemed misplaced and distracted from all the freewheeling gyrations. Also the dramatics flattened out in what seemed like an extended finger pointing lecture on tolerance, political correctness, and multiculturalism. Then there’s Martin Henderson, who made no lasting impression as the earnest lover with his stiff performance.

It takes place in current-day India, London and Beverly Hills, as the film opens in Amritsar (the holy city for the Sikhs and home for their Golden Temple) where the middle-class Bakshi family dwell. The matriarch of the family, an overbearing gold-digger, Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar), is trying to marry off her four daughters– Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar), Lalita (Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood superstar, reputed to be the world’s most beautiful woman, who is making her debut in an English-speaking film), Maya, and Lucky–to wealthy prospects, while their more philosophical, mild-mannered father (Anupam Kher) quietly works to protect his daughters from their crass mom. Lalita is the prize beauty in the litter, who is independent-minded and unwilling to marry someone she doesn’t love. She proves this by turning down the marriage proposal of visiting Indian nouveau riche Los Angeles real estate developer, the obnoxious cackling Mr Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), who tells the matriarch “No life without wife.”

Arrogant and wealthy American hotel magnate William Darcy (Martin Henderson) is in Amritsar to buy a luxury hotel for his chain, and is accompanied by his college buddy, the now London-based Balraj (Naveen Andrews), who is returning home to India. At a wedding for a friend Raj falls in love with Jaya, while Darcy and Lalita dance together but get off to a rocky start, not connecting through a series of miscommunications even though they are physically attracted to each other. Lalita’s turned off by Darcy’s pride and upsets both her mom and Darcy by flirting with poor Brit Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies), traveling hippie style through India with a knapsack.

The film ultimately doesn’t work because the filmmaker had nothing more on the table to serve but a dazzling spectacle in bad music and a love story that is missing the virtues of the classic. If Chadha stuck to keeping it as nutty as a screwball comedy, it would have probably overcome its limitations and shallow look at bias. Give me a prideful Laurence Olivier romancing the prejudiced Greer Garson in the unfaithful 1940 Pride and Prejudice any time over this more faithful but unfulfilling version!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”