The premise is similar to Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Here the setting is moved to India, where the not-so-wealthy (but still rich enough to hire servants) Bakshi family resides in a less-than-touristy district. Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) is desperate to marry off her daughters. They include Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar), who has eyes for lawyer Balraj (Lost's Naveen Andrews), and Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) who is interested in Balraj's American friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), until she actually bothers to talk to him.
Darcy, as it turns out, is quite arrogant. But his British arch-nemesis Mr. Wickham (Daniel Gillies) seems like quite the catch. Unfortunately for Lalita, her mother is set on finding a nice, rich, American-ized Indian for her to marry in the form of Mr. Kholi (Nitin Chandra Ganatra, in a bout of hit-or-miss overacting). The romantic triangles proceed to play out with Austen-ian convolution, but with much more singing and dancing, and not nearly as memorable dialogue.
The early numbers in the film are quite promising. They evoke the lavish production of a Bollywood (or, for that matter, '50s Hollywood) musical with grandiose flourishes of color and masses of twirling extras. They inject life into an otherwise tepid retelling of a classic tale. But as the film goes on these numbers diminish until all we're left with is an occasionally clever romantic comedy with the odd touch of song popping up when the film remembers that it's also supposed to be a musical.
Not helping matters is Henderson's unrelentingly bland portrayal of Darcy, whose character arc goes from charmless and pompous to charmless and earnest. It's impossible to believe that Lalita, to whom Rai brings spark and vitality, could ever be interested in Darcy, with whom she exhibits no detectable chemistry. In fact, Andrews is so compelling with what little screen time he has as Balraj that one spends the whole movie wondering why he and Lalita don't get together, since they seem to be the only two interesting people in the film.
When the movie works, it's actually quite funny. Meghna Kothari, as one of the younger sisters, performs a hilarious "cobra dance" for the family. And the sudden appearance of a gospel choir on an L.A. beach is inspired. But overall, the dialogue and action only achieve a sort of sit-commy feel.
The film's edge lies in its incorporation of Indian culture into an Anglo tale, not only in breakout musical numbers but also in the cultural issues it raises. Case in point is the conflict between the tourist-driven "India without all the Indians" that Lalita decries and the "real" India she glorifies. But these sorts of issues are never really explored or even mined for their full comedic potential.
Trying to mesh two different genres is a tough enough job, but if a film can at least do both genres well, it can be entertaining if not coherent. The problem here is that Bride and Prejudice can do neither genre consistently well, much less mesh the two, so it ends up being, like its title, cute but ultimately meaningless.
The DVD adds deleted scenes, extended songs, several making-of documentaries and interviews, and a commentary track.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th February 2005
Box Office USA: $6.5M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 85 Rotten: 47
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Lalita Bakshi, Martin Henderson as William Darcy, Naveen Andrews as Balraj, Daniel Gillies as Johnny Wickham, Indira Varma as Kiran, Marsha Mason as Catherine Darcy, Nadira Babbar as Manorama Bakshi, Anupam Kher as Chaman Bakshi, Namrata Shirodkar as Jaya Bakshi, Sonali Kulkarni as Chandra Lamba, Nitin Ganatra as Mr. Kohli, Meghna Kothari as Maya Bakshi, Peeya Rai Chowdhary as Lakhi Bakshi, Alexis Bledel as Georgina 'Georgie' Darcy, Ashanti as Herself
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