If nothing else, "Bride and Prejudice" proves that the silly, ingenuous charm of Bollywood musicals becomes tedious andeven downright dumb in English.
A cross-cultural adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" set in modern-day Bombay, London and Los Angeles, thisis a trite, flimsy, groundless romance of shallow character stereotypes, ethnic hypocrisy, and horrible songs. But it does have one saving gracein talented, stunningly beautiful Indian superstar Aishwarya Rai.
As Lalita, the most independent and worldly of five sisterswhose largely traditional parents have begun trying to marry them off,Rai has a radiant screen presence as she stands in for Austen's heroineElizabeth Bennet. But she doesn't have much to work with except personalitycontradictions that betray a one-dimensional script -- and a suitor whois nothing short of insufferable, played by an actor without the chopsto reveal his unsuspected depth.
Despite her many lectures about appreciating the Indianlifestyle (and songs with inane lyrics like "India's the place forme/India sets you free"), Lalita spends much of her time going to"Gidget"-like beach parties (where American pop singers makeunmotivated cameos) and to discos that play Euro-techno dance music. She'salso the only one in her family without an Indian accent.
In the course of the film, she's also attracted exclusivelyto Western men, including uppity Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, "TheRing") a culturally ignorant, wealthy andarrogant surfer-cum-yuppie from California, who is such an unmitigatedjerk that the only way he can become her inevitable love interest is byway of an arbitrary personality transplant half way through the movie.
Director Gurinder Chadha ("BendIt Like Beckham") intends the initial animositybetween these two to be endearing, but she makes only a cursory attemptto show what draws them to each other in spite of their mutual animosity.
Even when given the perfect opportunity to delve into characterdevelopment with flirting and banter as they're forced to sit togetheron an intercontinental airline flight, Chadha skips straight to the plane'slanding 12 hours later and opts instead for a hackneyed musical montagesequence of the couple on a series of set-piece dates.
"Bride and Prejudice" is the kind of musicalthat doesn't integrate its songs, but stops dead in its tracks for them-- even though they don't advance the story and just reiterate what's alreadypatently obvious. It's the kind of comedy that hinges on miscommunicationsthat could be easily cleared up if the characters would just take 30 secondsto level with one another. And it comes up short as an adaptation as well,reducing most of Austen's witty characters to little more than witlesscliches.
The one thing Chadha does do well is infuse the colorfuldance numbers with a genuine Bollywood effervescence -- well, at leastthe ones without dumb lyrics dragging them down.
I'm all for introducing the spirit of Bollywood's bettermovies to American audiences (see 2002's spectacular, absolutely infectious"Lagaan"),and I'm equally keen on updating Jane Austen stories (see "Clueless"or seek out last year's little-seen but creatively modernized version of"Pride and Prejudice"). But this painfully ill-conceivedoverproduction isn't the way to win fans to either one.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th February 2005
Box Office USA: $6.5M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 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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