Gurinder Chadha’s Bollywood version: Bride and Prejudice (2004)
This film is a sensory delight. Rich colours and vibrancy splash over the screen, and the music is such a delight. It takes a certain amount of getting used to, particularly if Bollywood films aren’t you usual cup of tea, but the recontextualising works seamlessly- the regency culture seems to fit the Indian culture perfectly. If you’re getting any sort of dejavu then perhaps it is because Chadha was the Bend it Like Beckham director, and several of the ideas from that movie seem to have seeped into this.
Even the saddest of scenes leave me feeling upbeat, perhaps because of the musicality, slapstick humour and fantastic dancing displayed by all of the characters. I found myself singing along to the choruses and getting right into the movie. For these reasons, it probably isn’t the most emotionally evocative rendition of P&P, but it does have that same feel- and even introduces new themes such as racial acceptance and the culture clash. I probably haven’t seen more than five Bollywood films, but this one gently eases you into it so you aren’t completely confused when the characters suddenly burst out into song.
The “No Life without Wife” song is a fantastic expression of the family dynamics. It’s great to see them dance together and tease each other, and tease Mr Kohli (Mr Collins). The costumes are all really sweet and match their characters, and although they work as one unit at times during the dance- when mimicking bad male behaviour- they each still maintain their own personas. The dances are generally amazingly well choreographed. There is unison and character in each of them, and it really is a visual buffet- each scene given a different colour scheme.
Martin Henderson doesn’t quite keep up with Aishwarya Rai’s acting, but I think he has his work cut out in unfamiliar territory. Aishwarya is not an Elizabeth in any sense that I would have believed her to be, but she works in her own way in this setting, if often a little over the top. There are a few throw-backs to Austen (at one stage Lalita opens a book that is, in fact, an Austen novel) but they aren’t as blatant as in other productions, and although they are a little pointless, they don’t hinder the performance. What does sometimes hinder the performance are the really god-awful lyrics put to some of the songs. I’m no musical genius so although I have been told that the songs could have been better musically, I really didn’t notice, but some of the cliches and just stupid rhymes blasting from my speakers did my head in several times.
The script did a fairly good job at attempting to stick to the main passages of P&P and yet it can be hard to comprehend exactly what is happening at stages. The constant movement can get distracting and a little nauseating, and I don’t think it is anything to do with my untrained internal Bollywood fan. The character of Johnny was also unfortunately a huge let down, that just fell flat with poor acting skills. Unlike most castings of Wickham where you can see how he and Lizzy would fit well together, Lalita and Johnny don’t even seem to share a flicker.
In every regard this film is over the top and just a whole lot of fun! You can’t deny the thrill of seeing so many people laughing and dancing, and so many colours, with a ridiculous amount of confetti and disco lights added on top of that. However the film fails to reach me on anything other than a shallow level. I do not feel for the characters. I may wish that Will and Lalita end up together, but I don’t feel like it would be the end of the world if they don’t, and this is ultimately the biggest failing of the film. It may have fulfilled its purpose- a classic retold and re-created in Bollywood style, but it loses the essence of Austen’s P&P, it leaves behind the raw emotion.
Honourable mentions: The casting of Nitin Ganatra as Mr. Kohli, he was suitably creepy and smarmy and I almost fell out of my seat with laughter when he was in certain scenes.
Dishonourable mentions: The random Ashanti concert- I did read that this was paying homage to the traditional Bollywood film where they would have an entirely unrelated, but it just irritated me, and the creepy snake dance.