Gurinder Chadha’s “Bride and Prejudice”, supposedly a modern retelling (Bollywood style) of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, allows me to break out my favorite line when reviewing movies such as these: It is what it is, and if you went into this film knowing what it is, and yet expecting more than what it is capable of, then it’s entirely your fault for being disappointed. As with her earlier international success, the Keira Knightley soccer flick “Bend It Like Beckham”, Chadha attempts once again to bring Bollywood to Hollywood. To this end, Chadha has teamed up India’s most well known female personality (and one-time Miss World) Aishwarya Rai, with New Zealander Martin Henderson (“Torque”), here playing a dashing American.
“Bride and Prejudice” breaks down and proceeds in the predictable pattern one is used to with romantic comedies, rather they be from Hollywood, India, or the UK. Boy meets girl; boy and girl falls for one another; obstacle enters; they rise above it and live happily ever after. It’s formulaic to the core, and really, that’s what anyone who enters the theater expects out of “Bride and Prejudice”. The trick, then, is to offer up convincing enough performances from the two primary leads, enough yuks supplied by the wacky supporting cast, and some random bits of entertainment in-between the predictable “meet cute” moment and the equally predictable “happily ever after” moment.
In those respects, “Bride and Prejudice” certainly comes through, complete with impromptu singing and dancing, except here the songs are (for the most part) in English. Henderson plays Will Darcy, an American businessman visiting India with fellow rich buddy Balraj (Naveen Andrews). Balraj has eyes for the eldest daughter in the Bakshi clan, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar), and Darcy came along to buy a beachfront hotel. At a wedding, Darcy meets the lovely Lalita (Rai), Jaya’s younger sister. It’s love at first sight, but Lalita is quickly turned off by Darcy’s brash Americanism, and so it’s up to Darcy to chase Lalita for the remainder of the movie. Somewhere in the middle, an English bloke from Darcy’s past shows up to get in the way of Lalita and Darcy making a love connection. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
At an hour and 40 minutes, “Bride and Prejudice” is probably about 15 minutes too long. The length, incidentally, is one of the problems I had with Chadha’s “Beckham”. The two films simply go on longer than necessary, with a lot of superfluous asides that take up space, making a more desirous snappy pace impossible. For instance, although Nitin Chandra Ganatra, as the goofball Kholi (an Americanized Indian who returns home to find a bride), is almost always funny when onscreen, the film nevertheless spends too much time on his hijinks. In fact, when Henderson finally makes a re-appearance after a long absence, it takes you a moment to realize he’s actually the male lead, and not Ganatra.
There are some mild laughs and chuckles to be had with “Bride and Prejudice”, but nothing to roll in the aisles laughing over. Also, the singing and dancing doesn’t quite seem up to snuff; that is, they don’t seem quite as good as in other Bollywood movies. Then again, it’s not like I’ve seen enough of these movies to really make an expert judgment, so take that criticism for what it’s worth. On the whole, the film does work, if only because I never expected very much out of it except some fluff entertaining. There’s also a “snake dance” somewhere in the middle that probably makes up the movie’s funniest moment.
The film falters in some places, including those much too long asides with Kholi, as well as the many background moments concerning Wickham (Daniel Gillies), the troublesome English bloke in question. Actually, I’m not entirely sure why Wickham is such a bad guy, even after the — gasp! — big secret about his past is revealed. You’d think the villain of the piece would prove to be more villainous. Wickham is actually a pretty swell fellow for about 99% of the time he’s onscreen. In fact, the guy comes across as downright nice, if a bit shady.
As the leads, Rai and Henderson are certainly prime examples of two people possessing impossibly perfect “movie star” good looks. There’s little doubt why Rai is the superstar that she is; the woman is simply gorgeous, with eyes that could start wars. In fact, most of the female Indian cast is stunning to look at, and everyone who isn’t is obviously there for comic relief. The mother and father are cliché, and you’ll no doubt find variations of them in every Bollywood romantic comedy you come across. Actually, most of “Bride and Prejudice” is clich’d, but I suppose that’s the charm of these films.
Is “Bride and Prejudice” the engine that will convince Middle America to give Bollywood a chance? Probably not. As strange as it may sound, I’m not entirely sure if “Prejudice” is Indian enough to actually be seen as anything overtly “ethnic”. If that turns out to be the case, it would be quite ironic, as no doubt the filmmakers went to great pains to make the movie more accessible to Western audiences. In this case, they may have succeeded too much.
Gurinder Chadha (director) / Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges (screenplay)
CAST: Aishwarya Rai …. Lalita Bakshi
Martin Henderson …. Will Darcy
Daniel Gillies …. Wickham
Naveen Andrews …. Balraj Bingley