Bride And Prejudice - ScreenDaily review

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Bride And Prejudice - ScreenDaily review

Postby dleedlee » Fri Oct 08, 2004 4:59 pm

Bride And Prejudice

Geoffrey Macnab in London 04 October 2004

Dir: Gurinder Chadha. UK-India-US. 2004 111mins.

Bollywood spectacle and British comedy of manners collide head on in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride And Prejudice, an entertaining if wildly uneven updating of Jane Austen’s novel.

Chadha throws Indian, English and American characters into the mix, cheerfully trading in all available national stereotypes as she goes. Much grates. The direction is often surprisingly heavy-handed and some of the central performances are mannered in the extreme. The cornball finale is so sentimental that it would be considered contrived in the most mawkish B-movie weepie.

Nonetheless, the film is lifted by its own relentless optimism and energy. Chadha clearly wanted to make a multi-racial, multi-national crowd pleaser. She has succeeded, even if it sometimes feels that she is bullying rather than coaxing us into liking her film.

Commercial prospects are hard to predict: there is a clear danger of Bride being jilted at the altar. Some audiences may find the film not brazen enough. Others may feel its concessions to Bollywood conventions (for instance, no kissing between the leads) push it into the realm of the preposterous. Reviews are likely to be mixed, although this shouldn’t much affect initial business in the UK, where the film opens on Oct 8 and where Chadha’s previous film Bend It Like Beckham grossed $16.5m.

Miramax is releasing the film in the States at Christmas, where there are possibly less names to entice US cinemagoers. It will take vigorous and inventive marketing to position the film with a mainstream American public to whom the Bollywood references may prove baffling. But this is broad, accessible fare. With the right handling, Bride And Prejudice has a fair chance of reaching a mass audience.

As the story begins, American businessman Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) has jetted into Amritsar for an Indian wedding along with his friend Balraj (Naveen Andrews.) Darcy is a good-looking but supercilious sort who is openly contemptuous about Indian customs.

At the wedding, the two men encounter the four beautiful Bakshi daughters and their impecunious parents. Mr and Mrs Bakshi are on the prowl for husbands and think Balraj might be the perfect catch. Right from the outset, it is obvious where the daughters’ affections lie. Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is drawn to Darcy while her older sister Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) likes Balraj. It is equally apparent that both men reciprocate. However, there is a huge amount of pride and prejudice to be overcome on both sides.

Much of the film’s charm lies in the shameless and often gently parodic way it borrows not only from Jane Austen but from every movie genre imaginable. There are several nods in the direction of the prolific Indian producer-director Yash Chopra. The denouement takes place in London’s National Film Theatre, during a screening of Manoj Kumar's Purab Aur Paschim (1970), a propagandistic Indian movie decrying the corrupting influence of the west on traditional Indian values.

At times, most notably during the flamboyant song and dance sequences (brilliantly choreographed by Bollywood veteran Saroj Khan), the film looks as lavish as an MGM musical. But certain other scenes, for instance the LA wedding (reportedly shot in the grounds of a hotel in England’s home counties for budgetary reasons), have the production values of a cheap TV soap opera.

The knockabout humour rekindlles memories of Chadha’s earlier film, Bhaji On The Beach (a comedy about Indian women on a daytrip to seaside resort Blackpool).

Bride And Prejudice makes fitful attempts to broach such issues as American cultural imperialism and western misconceptions about the east. In one scene, we hear Lalita lecturing Darcy that he ought to escape the gilded world of Goa holiday resorts and investigate the "real India." Given that the film itself trades in picture postcard imagery, this sermon has a hollow ring.

The narrative lurches along in often confusing fashion. Between musical interludes, we’re whisked from Amritsar to Goa and then off to LA, via London.

What glues the film together is the characterisation. Chadha may be dealing in stock types, but at least they are full-blooded. There is an archetypal British "cad" in the shape of Wickham (Daniel Gillies). (In Jane Austen’s day, he might have been a young soldier. Here, he is cleverly re-imagined as a backpacker.) There is a buffoon in the shape of the LA-based Kholi (a wonderful comic performance from Nitin Ganatra), who is in love with western gizmos but clings stubbornly to patriarchal Indian ideas about marriage. There is an ingenue in the shape of Lucky (Peeya Rai Chaudhary), the youngest Baskhi daughter, soon to be lured astray by Wickham. Anupam Kher and Nadira Babbar play the Bakshi parents as if they’re Amritsar’s answer to Charles Dickens’ Mr and Mrs Micawber.

Henderson is a little bland as Darcy but Aishwarya Rai makes a spirited and very likable romantic heroine.

Bride And Prejudice isn’t going to win prizes for subtlety or sophistication, but this is a very easy film to warm to. It is also one of the most ambitious yet attempts to combine western filmmaking with Bollywood. If it succeeds, it is bound to inspire a small army of imitators.

Prod cos: Bend It Films, UK Film Council, Inside Track, Kintop Pictures, Pathe Pictures
Exec prods: Francosi Ivernel, Cameron McCracken
Prods: Gurinder Chadha, Deepak Nayar
Int’l sales: Pathe Pictures Int’l
UK dist: Pathe
US dist: Miramax
Cine: Santosh Sivan
Ed: Justin Krish
Scr: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
Prod des: Nick Ellis
Mus: Anu Malik
Main cast: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Namrata Shirodkar, Indira Varma, Nadira Babbar
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