Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bride and Prejudice (2004) - Jane Austen gets spiced up

The title says it all. The movie has lots of brides, brides-in-waiting, brides-to-be (there are grooms too, of course, but they don’t really amount to much) and a truckload of prejudices. The movie is roughly based on Jane Austen’s romantic comedy Pride and Prejudice. By roughly, I mean that Austen’s story comes in for some rough handling here. However, we will ignore Jane’s hurt sensibilities at the mangling of her novel and enjoy this adaptation on its masala merits! Those of you who are familiar with Pride and Prejudice probably don’t need to be told the plot. Those who aren’t, you need to read the book ASAP or proceed with reading the rest of this post.
Clueless-but-Cute-American William Darcy (Martin Henderson) comes to Hicksville, India (Amritsar to the uninitiated; and the appellation is his, not mine!) to attend a friend’s wedding. Also with him are his friends the Anglophilic Indians (Naveen Andrews and Indira Varma) who rejoice in the Indian names of Balraj and Kiran Bingley. You may charitably conclude that they are the Indian descendants of Austen's Bingleys who settled in London's high society.

In the wedding, they run into the Bakshi family that is overflowing with marriageable daughters. The Bakshis are also closely related to the von Trapps - they all sing and dance with the exception of Mr Bakshi (Anupam Kher). Daughter-in-chief is Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) a bordering-on-simpleton-sweet girl. Bakshi daughter number two is the gorgeous Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) who is single-handedly responsible for most of the prejudice in the movie. There are more daughters, but we need not concern ourselves about them. I musnt forget to mention Mrs Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) who is more fun than all her daughters put together and can sing like nobody else!
The Anglo-Americans meet the Indians and there is immediate chemistry - the attractive kind between Will-Lalita, Balraj-Jaya, and the repulsive kind between Kiran and the Indians. Balraj and Jaya dive straight into the pool of love, while poor Will sustains several debilitating snubs from the prejudiced Lalita. Lalita's unmerited rebuffs do nothing to dampen Will's ardor. Just when you begin to anticipate several successful love stories, tragedy strikes.
The Bakshi pater familias invites Mr. Cute Guy, Mr. Rich British Guy and Ms. Snooty Bingley over for dinner at their place. The entertainment for the evening is provided by a younger Bakshi daughter who performs a surreal snake dance. The British and Americans immediately join hands to steer clear of all things snaky. They decide not to ally themselves to such a venomous family and all the romances are suddenly called off! Exit Mr Darcy and the Bingleys. Enter heartbreak, Mr. Wickham and Mr. Kholi.
Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) is a visiting tourist whom Lalita picks up at a Goa beach and who turns out to be none other than Will's former nanny's son. He fills Lalita's head with tales of Will's perfidy and cements her already rock-solid dislike of the poor guy (strictly figurative as Will is pretty rich in worldly goods).


Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), is an NRI (non-resident Indian) relative of the Bakshis who has come all the way to Amritsar from California to search for a bride. He is dazzled by the abundance of bridal material in the Bakshi household but finally decides to honor Lalita with his romantic attentions. Alas, the disdainful dame will have none of him and he is obliged to marry her friend Chandra (Sonali Kulkarni). The wedding is to be held in California and the Bakshis are invited.

Jaya, Lalita and their Mom travel to California, stopping over at London to visit the Bingleys. The Bingleys, or rather Ms. Snooty Bingley, gives them the cold shoulder and the dejected Bakshis travel on to California. Here Lalita meets Will Darcy again and his unwavering regard softens Lalita's diamond-hard heart. There is even a soft romantic song in the true Bolly-tradition. OK - now they live happily ever after, you think to yourself. You wish!
Will's Mom and ex-girlfriend combine to create a rift between the two and the process is inadvertently completed by Will's sister, Georgie (Alexis Bledel). Lalita and Will part and the Bakshis return to London where fresh trouble awaits them.
This is as far as I go with my storytelling. Pride and Prejudice regulars know what happens next. The rest of you might want to visit the Bakshis to find out what happens to poor Will's love and the Bingley-Bakshi union.
I wont go into details of performances - the actors were all running true to form and acted very well in an over-the-top-Bollywood way. A short note on my favorites in the movie - Nadira Babbar is super as the slightly silly mother of five daughters who is anxious to get them married-off. Loved Nitin Ganatra whose Mr. Kholi is very silly, conceited and sooo begging to be taken down several pegs. Indira Verma was seriously gorgeous as Kiran Bingley and so deliciously snobbish - I could barely recognize the lady who played the fugly Maya in Mira Nair's Kamasutra.
Visually speaking, this movie was a complete collection of beautiful people and a parade of rich designer wear. Producer-director Gurindar Chadha's much-hyped venture after the hugely successful Bend It Like Beckham, this one is a complete Bollywood masala experience. There are weddings with awesome costumes and great dances, romance, drama, tragedy, comedy and great songs. There is even an *item-number* by singer Ashanti. The movie was shot in English but released in both English and Hindi. I prefer the English version, though the songs sound better in Hindi.
I am very fond of Pride and Prejudice and loved the spicing up of my favorite classic but have to admit that not all Austen fans would care for it. However, if you like Bollywood masala, you are going to like this one.

23 comments:

  1. I loved this movie! To make things clear from the start, I am a fan not only of Pride and Prejudice but all Austen novels. But I thought G Chadhha translated th Austen story and paid her homage to Bollywood films so well. Even the names were so aptly fitted in. She herself said that everything was meant to be a bit OTT, including the colours, just that extra underlining: makes you laugh at but does not put down B'wood,

    I have seen both versions, but all the family preferred the songs in English, as they added a quirky touch missing in the Hindi ones. Especially No Life Without Wife works much better in English rather than Hindi for me.

    Nadira B was great but this is also the movie in which I have liked Ash most. The romance is melt-in-the puddle, and the sister's snake dance is too funny (and too real...I have had classmates whose parents encouraged such talents to show: shudder!)

    A thoroughly entertaining film.

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  2. This is the movie that brought me into the Bollywood fold! I had no idea about the industry, except for a vague memory of some "Bombay Nights" posters in the Tube when I was in London. Watching the "Behind the Scenes" stuff and listening to Gurinder's commentary were eye-opening experiences.

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  3. You know, I remember enjoying it when it came out, but I don't think it's held up well. I find that it's just kind of bland - not too much Bollywood and not too much Hollywood. I expected much better from Gurindar Chadha after the wonderful "Bend it like Beckham" - which I've seen upwards of 10 times.

    I just don't get any sort of chemistry between Aish and Darcy. On the commentary doesn't it say that they really disliked one another on the set? That would explain a lot.

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  4. Thanks for reminding me about this film with your write up bollyviewer. I'd forgotten I'd seen it. I remember when I saw it feeling luke warm about it and wishing I was watching a real Bollywood film, but reading your review, I really do recall that it was quite good. I especially liked the snake dance (great screen cap!) and Mr. Kholi's part as well as Indira Verma's role. Supporting cast was great. It's funny because when I see Aish in this film and in "Mistress of Spices" I don't care too much for the acting, perhaps because it's in English? Otherwise, I do like her, but it makes me wonder if this is the same thing Hindi speakers feel, which I can't process as a non Hindi speaker. I can feel her flatness in the 2 English parts I've seen her in; however, to be fair, both of those characters were a bit stiff and reserved to begin with.

    All the best,
    Sita-ji

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  5. @bebe: I am glad you found the movie as entertaining as I did. The story is certainly transformed beautifully to modern India. I have but one beef with it - Austen's Darcy falls for Elizabeth's irreverant charm, her quick-wit and inspite of her lack of beauty. What Chadha's Lalita lacks in charm and wit, she more than makes up in disdainful snubs! So, you wonder why Darcy falls for her inspite of her beauty!

    Agree with your comment about No life without wife but I felt that Show me the way sounded like a Hindi song mistakenly sung in English! And I liked its Hindi lyrics better, too.

    @ajnabi: I believe this movie did a lot to popularise Bollywood in the West. It was a big hit in UK but didnt catch on so well in India - which is surprising as it has all the elements of a successful Bollywood masala vehicle.

    @Filmi Girl: I havent checked the special features on my copy, so I dont know about their mutual dislike. But it would certainly explain Aish's evident pleasure in verbally whacking the poor guy! I felt so sorry for Darcy here... Thought the romance between the two in the latter half of the movie was very good - I felt their chemistry there!

    Bend It Like Beckham was a different sort of movie altogether (I loved it, too) and its not really fair to compare it to the masala flick that B&P is. B&P is intentionally over-the-top while BILB was narrating a simple story in a straightforward manner with no masala twists.

    @Sita-ji: I had forgotten this one, too! Just happened to rediscover my DVD this weekend and couldnt believe I hadnt re-watched it for soooo long.

    Re Aish's flatness, I am sad to say that Aish sounds worse in Hindi (most of the time)! She actually seems more comfortable in English.

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  6. My one "beef" is related to Ash; in the movie she was talked about as the less pretty sister while everyone talked about the beautiful elder daughter (as in the book). Now to have a former Miss World or whatever plus a "gori-chitti" "girl" with blue-eyes in India described as not pretty is having 16,000 impossible things before breakfast.

    With just those two things, even if the rest of her was as ugly as a chicken-foot, she would be the darling of all mothers.
    Of course, it could be due to her outspoken and bad character.

    I agree with you regards comparison with Bend it.., I love that movie, and have seen it several times, but I did think she also hit the right note with what she attempted in B & P: an affectionate, admiring and sometimes a little despairing look at the excesses of Hindi films.

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  7. Completely agree with you about Aish's beauty. However, we must remember that the movie was made more with a Western audience in mind and should look at Aish's beauty from the western point of view. I remember watching this film with some European friends of mine and they did actually agree with Mama Bakshi! The remarks were something along the lines of, "The heroine looks like any white girl [nothing remarkable here]. The other one looks sooo Indian - she is beautiful."

    You're so right about Chadha's affectionate and admiring take on Bollywood. I think the movie's masala components worked so well because of it. Other NRI directors like Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta never quite catch it and their masala movies come out either too condescending or just plain boring.

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  8. Like Ajnabi, this is the movie that brought me to Bollywood (the website for it, actually, in which Chadha talked about Hindi film conventions and I thought I needed to go learn more about them), so I will always like it for that. As a huge fan of Austen and the adaptations of her work, I enjoyed the movie when I watched it, but looking back I'd have to say it's neither as good as most other Austen adaptations (of the not-set-in-England ones I can think of off the top of my head, Kandoukonden Kandoukonden is AMAZING and everyone should watch it right away; I'm still reeling from all the new more traditionally-set ones on PBS this past winter!) OR as good as a good masala Bollywood movie. The latter I assume is due to trying to get it a huge western market.

    I will give it this: at the end, in the background of one of the shots there are big cutouts (or is it a hoarding? I forget) of Kajol and SRK in KKHH, and somehow I remembered them from B&P when I first watched KKHH a few weeks after that and squealed with delight!

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  9. Agree that this isnt the best adaptation of Jane Austen's books but its certainly an entertaining one. I love the fact that I can showcase Bollywood to my European/North American friends in a movie that follows a plot that they know about in a language they understand.

    I have seen Kandoukonden Kandoukonden and loved it - also liked the Emma Thompson-Hugh Grant version. But I feel that of all of Austen's novels, Pride and Prejudice lends itself the least to a good screen adaptation (I have enjoyed Persuasion and Emma just as much as I liked Sense and Sensibility, onscreen). Whether this is because there is too much happening within the book to capture successfully even in a mini-series or because the men in the novel dont have much to do screen-wise and land up looking like stuffed shirts. I've always felt that Colin Firth's Darcy threw himself into the river to relieve his frustration with the role - all Austen's Darcy had to do was look brooding and haughty and make a couple of marriage proposals!

    Ooo I didnt notice the KKHH banner inspite of several re-watches - I think I was too blinded by Martin Henderson's cuteness to notice such details! ;-D

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  10. What I will always remember the film for is the snake dance. That was brilliant. The film fell flat in India, because the songs, the OTT characters, or Aishwarya Rai, all of it is taken for granted in a Hindi film. Beyond that, since the central characters lack chemistry, it makes the film bland. I did like the second half myself, when the emotions became more complex.

    Oh yes, Aishwarya Rai also made the mistake of being slightly overweight in the film, which is what bothered Indian audiences the most. :)

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  11. Welcome, Banno. The snake-dance was superb. That actress should have made it to the top of So You Think You Can Dance!

    You're right about the masala ingredients being quite common to normal Bollywood fare. But you can say that about many other hit Hindi movies, too!

    I remember reading somewhere else that Aishwarya gained pounds for this. To me she was still enviably slim!

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  12. A lot of my desi friends criticize this movie but I think it's a good intro into Bollywood. I saw it and liked it.

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  13. Welcome Nicki. Agree with you that its a great intro to Bollywood. Its a great combo of Bollywood and Western cinema!

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  14. Bollyviewer,
    Are you serious when you say "not all Austen fans would care for it"??!! - the film is fine, but has nothing to do, apart from a vague copying of the plot - with Jane Austen's novel. Not that I mind, nor anybody.

    I was very surprised, when you came to that pivotal moment in the movie, dealing with J. Wickham, you know, that you spoke about him filling "her (Lalita) already rock-solid dislike of the poor guy (Darcy)", very surprised that you didn't take the hint, and didn't mention Wickham's rock-solid pectorals, all the more so as you actually show them to us!! I don't understand what sort of reviewing you are making.

    BUT you were forgiven everything when I saw you featured M. Kholi, whom I found was so grossly under-reviewed wherever I have read about B&P.
    So all in all: one fantastic review!
    cheers!

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  15. Thanks for the commendation, Yves.

    As an Austen fan and a die-hard Pride and Prejudice fanatic, I liked the movie. It was also a big hit in UK - a country that remakes P&P every 5 years! I would personally say that the movie stuck to the letter but not the spirit of the book and that makes it a bad adaptation. But like you and several others, I dont care!

    lol, I do apologise for ignoring Daniel Gillies' rippling muscles. All I can say in my defence is that I was blinded by Martin Henderson's dimple. Wont happen again. ;-)

    Glad you liked Nitin Ganatra's Kholi who actually made more of an impression than the leads! I was so happy to see the actor in Mistress of Spices and some British TV series as well, though his Kholi is unbeatable.

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  16. I have watched this film from the time it came out in 2004 and still watching it now with my daughter. She loves it as much as me. She has even rehersed the steps and we live on the otherside of the world in Barbados. This great peice of work has proven longivity and is a source of inspiration. I now watch Bollywood movies because of Bride and Prejudice. The snake dance omg... luv it luv it, the opening number colourful, fantastic. I surf youtube for the choregographer Saroj Khan's shows. I can't understand what is being said but I watch all the same. Keep it up Bollywood the world is watching you.. :)

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  17. Anon, thanks for stopping by. A lot of people seem to have found their way to Bollywood through B&P (read comments above). The film was one big splash of colors and beautiful people - very typical of Bollywood masala. The snake dance was very good in a rather scary way - great onscreen but I hope never to see it my living room! ;-)

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  18. Hi, I stay in india ;all of indian films dont come under the title bollywood. bollywood refers to those films made in bombay-hindi films.
    the problem with Bride and prejudice is there was no star which could carry the filmor no star which could draw the people to the theatres.
    about AISH ;she is beautiful no doubt but her acting is not to the mark she has a very few hits ; those too coz of some help frm her co stars .
    the problem with B&P was it was too bland and the ending was too clichee. we r tired of such ending for we used to find them in every second movie
    Anyways B&P was made with Uk audiences in mind and not with the indian ones thats why it crashed at the indian box office here

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  19. Anonymous, I am an Indian too, and do know what the term "Bollywood" refers to! And I know that this one is not a Bollywood flick, but it has the right feel and cast for one. :)

    As to why this film was not a success, your arguments can just as well be applied to regular Bollywood flicks that do make it big in India. Besides, a lot of Bollywood films are targeted towards overseas audience of Indian origin (like Karan Johar films, for example) but still become hits in India. The bottom line is, if anybody could figure out what makes a film hit or flop with the audience, there would never be a flop!

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  20. A fascinating debate about Bride and Prejudice! I'm intrigued to note that this was the film that introduced Bollywood to a number of bloggers I follow. I can completely understand how the softly softly approach (just the right mix of east and west, so to speak) would do that.

    I suppose it's inevitable that B&P would be compared with Bend it Like Beckham, and I agree with the comments that they're two different genres (almost) and the comparisons/expectations are probably unfair. I also agree with some of the comments that Aishwarya's performance in B&P was bland although I've loved her in a number of Bollywood films (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Taal and Devdas in particular). But nobody's mentioned Naveen Andrews in B&P! Loved him in The English Patient and would have willingly sat through B&P for him alone!

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  21. It's always fun to read how many people like this movie - it reminds me that I can ask "in the name of all that's holy - WHY?!" in 6 or 7 languages.
    For me, this movie was a complete failure - a travesty of Austen and a travesty of Bollywood, and it's particularly embarrassing that the slab of wood in the male lead was a fellow Kiwi. The English lyrics to the song were a huge mistake because they captured perfectly the banal vapidity (or possible the vapid banality) of a lot of filmi lyrics, without the aural aesthetics of the Hindi songs. My favourite thing about this film is that I watched a long time ago and never have to again.

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  22. Bollywood in Britain, Naveen Andrews does not really have much to do in B&P and does not even have any interesting quirks like Mr. Kholi. So unless you love him from somewhere else, it's easy to forget Mr. Bingley!

    maxqnz, I doubt if anybody can answer WHY everybody does not share our own good tastes! I've often wondered why the classics are classics too - is it because they are classically cheesy, classically boring, classically annoying, or all three? In my case, when I am NOT told that the film is "good", the acting "great", the story "epic", I tend to be a lot more forgiving of the film's flaws. This one was just masala enough and Austen enough to appeal to me, besides having some very beautiful blocks of wood in the cast! :D

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  23. hmmm-----nice blog

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