Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Bride and Prejudice" (2004)

**After reviewing the novel and two direct adaptations, I'm now going to move in a completely opposite direction and review this 2004 Bollywood take on the classic Austen story.  This will be my last review for "Pride and Prejudice Week;" there is are other films and a 1980 BBC miniseries that deserve some attention, but I lack the time to do them justice.**

It's really hard to even know where to begin in reviewing a film like this.  "Bride and Prejudice" conveys so much infectious joy that it's hard to stop smiling long enough to start writing. It encompasses so many themes and genres that it's even hard to describe it. I would encourage you to read Roger Ebert's review of the film; that is probably one of the best reviews by him that I've read, and certainly one of the most enjoyable for its own sake

"Bride and Prejudice" is a Hollywood-made musical incorporating the plot elements of an Austen romance and the cinematic elements of a Bollywood comedy. It's almost frightening how well it plays both roles. Ebert notes that the director "employs the Bollywood strategy for using color, which comes down to: If it's a color, use it." As a musical, this film is brilliant, though the Indian songs are much more enjoyable than those sung in English. On the whole the script knows when to thumb its nose at itself and at the conventions of the genre. Entire streets of people suddenly burst out with song and dance, and two tubas materialize out of nowhere to play a few notes. My jaw quite literally dropped when I saw a fully robed Southern Baptist choice appear on the beach where Lizzie and Darcy had gone for a date, singing the background vocals while the couple falls in love.There is the obligatory "random celebrity singing an unrelated song" in true Bollywood tradition, and even a quasi-Hong Kong action set-piece (brilliantly set in a theatre with a real action film playing in the background). However, since my main focus is on the novel, I'll limit myself to mostly noting how it works as an Austen adaptation.

Aishwarya Rai (who I'm contractually obliged to describe as "the most beautiful woman in the world") plays the main character, Lalita Bakshi (which is as phonetically close to Lizzie Bennet as one could reasonably expect). She lives with her family in Amritsar, India, which is here depicted as a country town along the lines of Austen's Meryton. The original setting of the novel, England in the Regency period, was dominated by family dynamics and strict modes of etiquette. Considering that India was (until relatively recently) a British colony with similar social norms and family dynamics, I was quite impressed with how well the transposition of the story to India worked. As for main family, of the original five Bennet daughters, only four remain in the Bakshi  family -- Kitty (who in other films exists merely to tag along with Lydia) has been struck. I don't mind the omission; given how poorly Kitty is handled by other adaptations, I think leaving that character out entirely is almost preferred. Jaya (Jane Bennet) is a serene beauty, Maya (Mary Bennet) is overly serious, and Lakhi (Lydia Bennet) is overly silly. Their mother, Mrs. Bakshi, is quickly established as a gossipy matron with more in common with Lakhi than her other daughters, while Mr. Bakshi is the dryly droll dad.

At a friend's wedding, Jaya and Lalita meet Mr. Balraj, a British-educated Indian, and his friend William Darcy, the fantastically rich American hotel-owner. This is probably the best aspect of the film, from an Austenian point of view, simply because they reflect the original characters so well. In the novel, the Bingley family had recently acquired their fortune by trade (which is why Bingley was purchasing Netherfield Hall to begin with), while Darcy's family could boast far more elevated and ancient roots. For this reason, Bingley becomes Balraj, an Indian character with similar roots as the Bakshi family, while Darcy is played as an American, hilariously out of his depth. The depiction of Darcy is spot on: he is socially awkward, but comes across as arrogant. In an early scene, the drawstring for his pants comes undone, forcing him to make his excuses for not dancing with Lalita. It's a great piece of physical comedy, but it also allows us to see how he is simply uncomfortable while she reads him as stand-offish.

The story follows the expected Austenian lines, though the lines themselves are significantly less witty than the original. Lalita is determined to despise Darcy, despite his efforts to impress her. Mr. Wickham (this time named "Johnny") rises with a bronzed physique out of the ocean surf and immediately impresses her with his charm. The film presents Wickham as a much more viable love interest than most other adaptations, rather than the merely lukewarm regard Lizzie has for him in the novel. As for the inimitable Mr. Collins, he is transformed into Mr. Kholi, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur returning to his Indian home looking for a bride. Rejected by Lalita, he soon proposes to her best friend Chandra and returns to Los Angeles. The girls follow for the wedding, and so the courtship (and inevitable misunderstandings) can continue. Lalita meets Catherine (here treated as Darcy's mother, rather than his aunt) and Darcy's sister Georgina (played by Alexis Bledel, taking a break from her seven-year stint on "Gilmore Girls").

The film makes an interesting choice by treating the courtship of Lizzie and Darcy more extensively here, and allows Lizzie to actually develop feelings for Darcy during this time. Afterward, Lalita is naturally flummoxed when Catherine introduces Darcy's "girlfriend" Anne, and appalled when Georgie tells him that Darcy separated Balraj from Jaya because he thought her mother was a gold-digger. Lalita flees to Britain with her family, where Lakhi (Lydia) runs off to the carnival with Wickham (a much tamer version of the novel's "she elopes with him"). Darcy appears and reveals that Wickham had tried to force his way into the Darcy family fortune by getting Georgie pregnant when she was only 16 (a much more extreme version of the novel's "he tried to elope with her"). Darcy pursues Wickham and fights him for Lakhi's honor and brings her back to the Bakhi family -- there isn't a duel in the novel, but it seems strangely appropriate (especially given the duel under similar circumstances in "Sense and Sensibility").  By the end of the film, Jane and Balraj are getting married, and Lalita and Darcy are engaged -- happy endings for all.

It is really quite difficult to judge this film by the standards of other Austen adaptations. It makes no effort to rigidly follow the text, which does cause problems in some instances. Lalita and Darcy go on a few dates while she is in Los Angeles, which pushes the period of their courtship forward considerably. The film doesn't seek to make them hate each other, but is content to rely on simple misunderstandings and poor judgment to supply the obstacles for the lovers to overcome. The logic isn't as strict as Austen intended, but then, it's a Bollywood film, so I couldn't really expect any more. The joy and exuberance underlying the novel are decidedly present, and that is the greatest virtue of the film.

1 comment:

  1. As a Silicon Valley resident, I have to say that it's eight hours from Los Angeles, so there's no way that Mr. Kholi could be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and live in LA. There are some tech companies down there, after all, but they're never counted as Silicon Valley companies. Silicon Valley is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, a solid 400 miles from LA, and most emphatically in Northern California.

    Please, please PLEASE don't equate Nor-Cal with So-Cal. It's the bane of all Northern California residents.