Review: Bride & Prejudice (2004 movie)

Here’s yet another film based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this one set mainly in present-day India and done Bollywood style, complete with elaborate production numbers. It was directed by Gurinder Chadha (of Indian ancestry but born in Kenya and raised in England), best known for Bend It Like Beckham, and co-written with her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges.

The Bennet family of the novel have become the Bakshis of Amritsar, a multicultural city in Punjab famed for its Golden Temple. The film starts with a joyous wedding in another family at which the eldest sisters, Jaya and Lalita meet the counterparts of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy.

The Bingley character is called Balraj (Naveen Andrews), which had me expecting him to confront Gandalf any minute. He’s Indian, but he lives in Windsor, England — literally down the street from the castle — and is a successful British barrister. His sister is tall, elegant, and beautiful, played by Indira Varma, which is an understatement (varma being the Esperanto word for “warm”). She has become thoroughly anglicized and looks down her stately snoot at India when she isn’t busy admiring her brother’s fabulously rich and handsome American best friend, William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson, an actor I’m surprised we don’t see more of).

Besides their relative wealth and their roles in the plot, the two men don’t much resemble their counterparts in the novel. Jaya and Lalita are much more like the original’s Jane and Lizzy in their personalities.

Both are played by multilingual Bollywood actresses who are former models and beauty queens. Namrata Shirodkar, who plays the older sister Jaya, is a former Miss India and runner-up for Miss Universe. (In the 1930s her grandmother was the first Indian movie actress to appear on-screen in a swimsuit.) Aishwarya Rai, who plays the protagonist Lalita, was Miss World. I’m not normally an enthusiast of beauty contestants, but I can be flexible in my views. Roger Ebert is on record rating Aishwarya Rai not just the most beautiful woman in the world but the top two, and said if his review of Bride & Prejudice wasn’t accompanied by a photograph of her, his readers had grounds for a lawsuit.

In fairly short order Darcy manages to irritate Lalita with what she considers a lack of respect for Indian culture, and soon afterward she becomes acquainted with a seemingly much nicer American named Johnny Wickham. But when her boy-crazy youngest sister meets Wickham, she’s not about to let Lalita have all the fun. Lakhi adjusts her superstructure under her tight T-shirt (which has “Lucky” written across it in large letters because it sounds like her name), and successfully captures Wickham’s attention. She’s played by gorgeous Peeya Rai Chowdhary.

Maya (played by an actress named Meghnaa), corresponds to the eccentric middle sister Mary of the novel. Rather than entertaining at the pianoforte, though, Maya elects to divert guests with a weird cobra dance. The other sister in Pride and Prejudice doesn’t survive translation.

Bride & Prejudice is a lot of fun and I recommend it. Don’t overlook the gag reel on the DVD.

By the way, I have the impression that Gurinder Chadha must be fun to work with, since shots of of her directing usually show her smiling or laughing. and she apparently wants everybody else to have a good time as well. For example, when they finished shooting the big wedding song-and-dance production number she filmed another take, this time with the crew filling in for the actors. At the start of the end-titles we see her and her husband/co-writer reproducing a romantic scene from earlier in the film involving the hero and heroine.

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