Bride & Prejudice
Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Marsha Mason, Alexis Bledel. (2004, PG-13, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Feb. 25, 2005
Stateside viewers hesitating to dip a toe into the mighty waters of Bollywood cinema, take note: Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) has a film for you. It's got practically everything you could stuff in front of a camera, with the possible exception of Rip Taylor throwing confetti. Dancing transvestites? Check. Elephants? Check. Gospel choir on risers? Check. A mariachi song-and-dance number? Check. Locations on three continents? Check. (Or two continents and a subcontinent, depending on how you slice it.) A young star of the WB network? Check – Gilmore Girl Bledel. Pop star Ashanti? Check, surrounded by fireworks. And of course there's Rai, a former Miss World, fashion model, Bollywood superstar, and stone fox making her official Miramax-supported debut before Western eyes. You'll recall the plot from Jane Austen, and the other characters are always explaining the local customs to the film's priggish American version of Mr. Darcy, Henderson (The Ring). When multizillionaire Darcy jets off to Amritsar for a wedding-cum-business trip, he meets Lalita Bakshi (Rai), a sassy spitfire and one of five daughters slated for auspicious betrothal by their image-conscious mother (Nadira Babbar). Of course Lalita hates him (his insouciance, his rude disdain for the local culture, his racist, imperialist attitude) but of course she also loves him (his stylishly floppy hair, his smoldering intensity, the cut of his jib). And from there, myriad complications ensue - involving the other Bakshi sisters, involving a grubby British backpacker (Gillies), involving a tin-eared suitor (Nitin Chandra Ganatra) with a McMansion in the San Fernando Valley. There's even a film within the film set at London's National Film Theatre (maybe Rip Taylor was in the audience?). Bride has its problems – you'd expect that with such a kitchen-sink approach – but in its many great moments, it's more vibrant, more kinetic, more fun than any Hollywood romance of recent memory. It starts off with a bang, with several lavishly staged song numbers in the Bollywood tradition, which combines the "gotta dance!" earnestness of the classic MGM musical with the big, brash, loopy, colorful vibe of a Bhangra party in full throwdown. The comedy is broad and the acting larger-than-life (at least among the supporting players; the leads seem leaden by comparison). Sadly, the film loses much of its crackling vitality as the complications pile up. It's not so much that Austen's parlor yarn, with its ever so many delightful misunderstandings, is a mismatch for Bollywood storytelling. It's just that everyone stops singing and dancing, and the loss is palpable. When you take the Bollywood out of India – literally, as when the film changes locations – we're left with something too familiar: a floppy-haired blueblood and a model-actress making eyes.