Same Old Song and Dance
Bride & Prejudice is the third major film released stateside in the past few years to fuse the epic romantic musical stylings of Indian “Bollywood” movies with more Westernized, “Hollywood” elements. It’s also the most successful of them. But when the only significant competition has been The Guru and Bollywood/Hollywood, that isn’t saying a whole lot.
As the title suggests, Bride & Prejudice is a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A lower-class mother wants her four daughters to marry wealthy men. One of the daughters is caught between a rich guy who initially comes off as an obnoxious bastard (but really isn’t) and a not-so-rich guy who is charming (but secretly a total jackass). Complications ensue, and the other sisters deal with minor subplots of their own.
Though dated by contemporary Western standards, the story still works fairly well when transposed to a culture where parents still marry their daughters off to prearranged suitors. India may welcome e-mail, text-messaging, and drag queens (all present here), but tradition still prevails, especially in the small town of Amritsar, described by the movie’s Caucasian characters as “Hicksville, India.”
Breezing into this bustling burg is thoroughly Anglicized Indian Balraj (The English Patient‘s Naveen Andrews). His major purpose is to show his rich American friend Darcy (Martin Henderson, of Torque and The Ring) the country as a possible location to build a new hotel. In short order, the wealthy Balraj is singled out by a local woman, Mrs. Bakshi, seeking to marry off her eldest daughter, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar). The two seem to like each other, and Balraj has no problem with the notion of arranging a marriage to someone he scarcely knows. But cultures clash when Darcy meets Jaya’s sister, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai, a Bollywood star and 1994 Miss World). She chastises Darcy for being a tourist only interested in a homogenized view of India; he rightly gets defensive at her demeaning characterization of both him and the United States.
Being a typical red-blooded male, Darcy doesn’t let Lalita’s being a total bitch distract him from the fact that she’s incredibly hot. So rather than insult her in return, he tries to be somewhat apologetic, at least until a romantic rival emerges. Wickham (Daniel Gillies — John Jameson in Spider-Man 2) is lower-class, English and has a cut set of abs. Darcy doesn’t stand a chance — rather, he wouldn’t if this were real life. (Remind us again why we should feel sorry for a fabulously wealthy heir with a cool best friend? Oh, right, the most beautiful woman in the movie kinda-sorta thinks she hates him. Doesn’t your heart bleed?)
That the musical numbers (which are infrequent) are sung in English rather than Hindi turns out to be a detriment. The lyrics are trite, and the attempt to “Hollywoodize” them yields a result no better than the most mediocre of show tunes. The Phantom of the Opera movie was better with the big numbers. A musical montage set in America is inventive — especially the scene that draws parallels between India and Mexico — but it also highlights how unimaginative the rest of the movie is.