March 25, 2005 -- “Bride and Prejudice” is an attempt meld a Jane Austen classic story with a contemporary Bollywood musical. For those of you unfamiliar with Bollywood, it is a generic term for movies made in Bombay, India. More movies are made there than are made in Hollywood. India's thriving film industry is not unlike the MGM studio of the 1950s. They churn out a lot of musicals, but actors and actresses usually are not allowed to kiss on screen. They can hug, but that's about as far as it goes. Even Hollywood films of the 1950s did not operate under that strict of a code.
The attempt to meld Austen and Bollywood here is not very successful. The singing and dancing is O.K., but not up the level of those old MGM numbers. The acting is passable, except for a very weak romantic lead. The narrative gets badly scrambled in this big, sloppy production. The story gets derailed quickly, too. It never really gets started.
Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) is trying to find husbands for her four beautiful daughters (which should be no problem at all) during a wedding party in her Indian town. Her oldest, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is determined to marry for love. Then Lalita meets the a visiting rich American, Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, who looks vaguely like a younger Matthew McConaughey, but without the acting ability). We're supposed to believe that sparks fly when they first meet. The problem is, these two are sparkless. The two bumble around for the rest of the movie. Everyone knows they are supposed to end up together, but I could not bring myself to care whether they got together or not.
Other peripheral people get married during the movie (for money rather than romance, it seems). There's a bad guy, yadda, yadda. Stuff happens, but the story seems arbitrary. There is no emotion to drive the narrative. Gone are the subtle, intricate characterizations of Jane Austen's timeless story and its emotional appeal. What's left is Nitin Ganatra who plays the silly, Americanized Mr. Kholi. He has traveled to India from the States looking for a traditional Indian bride. Kholi is a broadly funny character in a movie where most of the other characters are a little bit too serious to be funny, except for the mother (Nadira Babbar) and father, (Anupam Kher), whose understated humor works very well against the overstated melodrama in the rest of the film.
One effective tongue-in-cheek scene has a fist fight in front of a movie screen in a theater where another Bollywood film is showing. Much use is made of very colorful costumes, including a crane shot over a street full of dancers. The film has a colorful, energetic look to it, but is short on substance.
If you want to see Pride and Prejudice, see the real thing, the 1996 mini-series starring Collin Firth, or the 1940 movie starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier (people with real acting ability). If you just want to see a Bollywood movie, rent “Monsoon Wedding,” that's a pretty good one. I would not spend real money to see “Bride and Prejudice,” it is worth a dollar rental maybe. It rates a C.
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