Bride And Prejudice Review
As Bride And Prejudice begins, a small town in India is hosting a wedding party, which suddenly erupts into a full scale Bollywood musical number as the town's young men and women dance flirtaciously and sing to each other in Hindi. It's a wonderful opening, sparkling with energy, fun and the excitement of something most of us don't see at the movies very often. The scene is only marred by the unnecessary English subtitles for the lyrics, an example of which is, "Women are like live wires - I am afraid of getting a shock". I have a feeling that sounded better in Hindi. Sadly, these subtitles are an early symptom of a malaise that afflicts the whole movie, more and more the longer it goes on: chronic loss of nerve. After that great beginning, Bride And Prejudice turns into a bland romantic comedy that uses its Indian setting merely as a colourful backdrop and eventually loses even that when the characters jet off to London and Los Angeles. By this point, we may as well be watching My Big Fat Indian Wedding.
It's as if director Gurinder Chadha, who made Bend It Like Beckham, wanted to make a Bollywood musical that would appeal to mainstream western moviegoers as well as the Indian audience, like her football movie did, but she, or her producers, didn't have enough faith in us. This is a film that's scared to be itself. Afraid of alienating the kind of people who are walking out of Hero when they realise it isn't a Jackie Chan comedy (and there were several at the showing I saw), it plays it safe. After the first number, the songs are sparse and mostly in English, as is the dialogue, even when the Indian characters are speaking to one another. While there's much talk about how proud the Indians are of their culture and how scornful they are of westerners who want a theme park version of their country instead of the real thing, the India the movie presents couldn't be more homogenised and tourist-friendly. Writing as a fairly unadventurous, white, English moviegoer who has never seen an Indian film, I wanted more of that first fifteen minutes.
But back to the wedding... Among the guests are Mr and Mrs Bakshi (Anupam Kher and Nadira Babbar), the parents of four unmarried daughters, who are hoping there will be eligible men there, looking for wives. Their eldest, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) hits the jackpot when she catches the eye of the rich and handsome Mr Balraj (Naveen Andrews). He's flown in from England with his sister and his best friend Mr Darcy (Martin Henderson), the American heir to a hotel chain. Lalita (Aishwarya Rai), Jaya's beautiful, strong-willed sister is attracted to Darcy but when they finally speak, she finds him arrogant and patronising. Her opinion of him drops further when she bumps into his childhood friend Mr Wickham (Daniel Gillies), who claims to have been treated poorly by the American. Unaware of all this intrigue, Lalita's impatient mother has arranged for her to meet Mr Kohli (Nitin Ganatra), a geeky, Americanised expatriate who loves his new home in Los Angeles but longs for a traditional wife.
The film is of course based on Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice, perhaps taking inspiration from Amy Heckerling's wonderful 1995 movie Clueless, which successfully turned another of Austen's books, Emma into a high school comedy. Not having read the novel, I don't know how closely Bride And Prejudice follows its storyline but I can't believe such a well-loved book could be quite this predictable. It's clear from the beginning who our heroine is fated to end up with, who is the slimy bastard and who is the comic relief. We can see every twist coming a mile off. The script relies heavily on sitcom plot devices such as characters saying the wrong things, misunderstanding situations and failing to give each other the information that would clear everything up. This often flies in the face of basic common sense. Take the slimy bastard for example - given what we eventually learn about him, why on earth would the hero keep his mouth shut and watch him romance the woman he loves?
Perhaps if this had been a real musical with more songs, the plot wouldn't have mattered as much and we could more easily ignore implausibilities like Mrs Bakshi despairing of finding husbands for her daughters, who look like supermodels or clichés like the traditional parents who demand their children marry according to their wishes and then relent and accept their child's choice at the last minute. Unfortunately, after the great opening number there are only a few more songs, which are inspired more by Broadway than Bollywood and aren't very memorable (think Grease 2 or Pocahontas). That leaves us with just another British romcom, and a substandard one at that. With Wimbledon still in cinemas and both the Alfie remake and the Bridget Jones sequel due shortly, do we really need one?