Dir: Gurinder Chadha.UK-India-US. 2004 111mins.
Bollywood spectacle andBritish comedy of manners collide head on in Gurinder Chadha's Bride AndPrejudice, an entertaining if wildly uneven updating of Jane Austen'snovel.
Chadha throws Indian,English and American characters into the mix, cheerfully trading in allavailable national stereotypes as she goes. Much grates. The direction is oftensurprisingly heavy-handed and some of the central performances are mannered inthe extreme. The cornball finale is so sentimental that it would be consideredcontrived in the most mawkish B-movie weepie.
Nonetheless, the film islifted by its own relentless optimism and energy. Chadha clearly wanted to makea multi-racial, multi-national crowd pleaser. She has succeeded, even if itsometimes feels that she is bullying rather than coaxing us into liking herfilm.
Commercial prospects arehard to predict: there is a clear danger of Bride being jilted at thealtar. Some audiences may find the film not brazen enough. Others may feel itsconcessions to Bollywood conventions (for instance, no kissing between theleads) push it into the realm of the preposterous. Reviews are likely to bemixed, although this shouldn't much affect initial business in the UK, wherethe film opens on Oct 8 and where Chadha's previous film Bend It Like Beckham grossed $16.5m.
Miramax is releasing thefilm in the States at Christmas, where there are possibly less names to enticeUS cinemagoers. It will take vigorous and inventive marketing to position thefilm with a mainstream American public to whom the Bollywood references mayprove baffling. But this is broad, accessible fare. With the right handling, BrideAnd Prejudice has a fair chance of reaching a mass audience.
As the story begins,American businessman Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) has jetted into Amritsar foran Indian wedding along with his friend Balraj (Naveen Andrews.) Darcy is agood-looking but supercilious sort who is openly contemptuous about Indiancustoms.
At the wedding, the two menencounter the four beautiful Bakshi daughters and their impecunious parents. Mrand Mrs Bakshi are on the prowl for husbands and think Balraj might be theperfect catch. Right from the outset, it is obvious where the daughters'affections lie. Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is drawn to Darcy while her older sisterJaya (Namrata Shirodkar) likes Balraj. It is equally apparent that both menreciprocate. However, there is a huge amount of pride and prejudice to beovercome on both sides.
Much of the film's charm liesin the shameless and often gently parodic way it borrows not only from JaneAusten but from every movie genre imaginable. There are several nods in thedirection of the prolific Indian producer-director Yash Chopra. The denouementtakes place in London's National Film Theatre, during a screening of ManojKumar's Purab Aur Paschim (1970), a propagandistic Indian movie decryingthe corrupting influence of the west on traditional Indian values.
At times, most notablyduring the flamboyant song and dance sequences (brilliantly choreographed byBollywood veteran Saroj Khan), the film looks as lavish as an MGM musical. Butcertain other scenes, for instance the LA wedding (reportedly shot in thegrounds of a hotel in England's home counties for budgetary reasons), have theproduction values of a cheap TV soap opera.
The knockabout humourrekindlles memories of Chadha's earlier film, Bhaji On The Beach (acomedy about Indian women on a daytrip to seaside resort Blackpool).
Bride And Prejudice makes fitful attempts to broach such issues asAmerican cultural imperialism and western misconceptions about the east. In onescene, we hear Lalita lecturing Darcy that he ought to escape the gilded worldof Goa holiday resorts and investigate the "real India." Given that thefilm itself trades in picture postcard imagery, this sermon has a hollow ring.
The narrative lurches alongin often confusing fashion. Between musical interludes, we're whisked fromAmritsar to Goa and then off to LA, via London.
What glues the film togetheris the characterisation. Chadha may be dealing in stock types, but at leastthey are full-blooded. There is an archetypal British "cad" in theshape of Wickham (Daniel Gillies). (In Jane Austen's day, he might have been ayoung soldier. Here, he is cleverly re-imagined as a backpacker.) There is abuffoon in the shape of the LA-based Kholi (a wonderful comic performance fromNitin Ganatra), who is in love with western gizmos but clings stubbornly topatriarchal Indian ideas about marriage. There is an ingenue in the shape ofLucky (Peeya Rai Chaudhary), the youngest Baskhi daughter, soon to be luredastray by Wickham. Anupam Kher and Nadira Babbar play the Bakshi parents as ifthey're Amritsar's answer to Charles Dickens' Mr and Mrs Micawber.
Henderson is a little blandas Darcy but Aishwarya Rai makes a spirited and very likable romantic heroine.
Bride And Prejudice isn't going to win prizes for subtlety orsophistication, but this is a very easy film to warm to. It is also one of themost ambitious yet attempts to combine western filmmaking with Bollywood. If itsucceeds, it is bound to inspire a small army of imitators.
Prod cos: Bend It Films, UK Film Council, Inside Track, Kintop Pictures, Pathe Pictures
Exec prods: Francosi Ivernel,Cameron McCracken
Prods: Gurinder Chadha, DeepakNayar
Int'l sales: Pathe Pictures Int'l
UK dist: Pathe
US dist: Miramax
Cine: Santosh Sivan
Ed: Justin Krish
Scr: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
Prod des: Nick Ellis
Mus: Anu Malik
Main cast: Aishwarya Rai, MartinHenderson, Naveen Andrews, Namrata Shirodkar, Indira Varma, Nadira Babbar