Bride & Prejudice
(Mostly in English, with some Hindi and Punjabi)
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
When I first saw Bride & Prejudice, I knew I liked it but I was stumped – I didn’t know what to write because I didn’t understand why I enjoyed it in spite of significant flaws. I would have been I deep trouble if I had been a critic with a “real job” including deadlines. The problem is that most of the characters in this colorful, exotic musical are presented as absurdly exaggerated stereotypes – if it was just one or two it would be easier to take but most of the characters are ridiculous in one way or another. Bride is a cross between an American-style romantic comedy and an Indian-style musical.
The director, Gurinder Chadha, is of Indian ancestry but was born in Kenya and grew up in London. She made her mark directing documentaries at the BBC before branching out into fictional films, notably 2002’s indie smash hit Bend It Like Beckham, which put her on the radar in the U.S.
On seeing Bride a second time, I realized that I appreciated the characters as camp – not Catwoman camp or Gigli camp, it’s different. The film’s exotic setting (mostly in India, with some London and L.A.) drew my attention so that, although the bad acting/writing hit me hard, I didn’t realize that I was subconsciously laughing at these absurd characters.
Chadha takes a huge leap in adapting Jane Austen's classic novel, Pride and Prejudice – the marriageable Bennet sisters of 19th century England become modern, young, middle-class women in India (ok so far) – but Mr. Darcy (Martin Henderson) becomes a wide-eyed, smug American! Mr. Darcy should be an aloof, erudite Brit! Huge mistake. Bride is a musical romantic comedy – I don’t expect it to be true to the source but turning Will Darcy into an American has no upside – it’s a waste, an opportunity blown.
The main character, Lalita Bakshi (the counterpart to Lizzie Bennet from the book, played by Aishwarya Rai) has been transformed from a bright, outspoken young woman to an annoyingly perfect character that I laughed at… not with. The film can be seen as a star vehicle of sorts for Indian superstar Aishwarya Rai – she was Miss World, 1994 and is hugely popular in her country. If her management thought this film would break her into the U.S. market, they miscalculated badly. Although she’s stunningly beautiful – particularly her eyes – the character struck me in an unintended way. I found the character’s borderline condescension so wrong as to be laughable. The character should be spirited and witty but came across as arrogant.
In standard romantic comedy fashion, Will and Lalita appear mismatched at first (except that he reacts melodramatically whenever he sees her) but fall in love by the third reel. In keeping with my take on Lalita, I would have enjoyed this line for her in response to his marriage proposal: “[Indian accent] Although you are a wealthy, handsome American, I cannot marry you or any other mortal man, for I am a deity. Have you not noticed that every phrase, every word, I utter is absolutely correct? I thank you for recognizing my divine perfection.” The problem with a perfect character, besides being annoying, is that she can’t change and grow in response to the story’s dramatic conflict – if you’re already perfect, where can you go? Although I’m somewhat disappointed with this as an American debut for Ms. Rai, I eagerly await her next project. She has tremendous charisma – I blame the material not the actress for the misfire of the character.
The overall look of Bride is colorful and exotic – particularly the costumes and production design. The dance numbers are grand in a visual sense and have a playful, carefree feel. I also liked the way the musical numbers were thrown in at odd moments – for example, people just start singing and dancing in the middle of a shopping bazaar. The musical aspect saves Bride from being merely a campy romantic comedy that is funny primarily in unintended ways. In fact, the joyful celebration of the musical sequences is a good fit with the campy drama – I didn’t feel the need to even try to take anything seriously. I found myself enjoying the ridiculous characters more than the (few) believable ones. I’m not sure that all lovers of musicals will react as positively to Bride as I did – laughing at the campy characters – but I can say with certainty that, if you don’t like musicals in general, you must avoid this film.
Photographs are copyright Miramax Films.
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