February 25, 2005

Bride & Prejudice

Directed by Gurinder Chadha Starring Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Bollywood's mushy melodrama, lavish designs and glorious performance numbers have become institutions in their native India, while its aesthetics and sounds have also cast a spell over Western pop culture. The influence has been multimedia and far ranging, from Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! to Truth Hurts' hit song "Addictive." But B-wood musicals remain mostly veiled to North American moviegoers, and their local runs at Raja Cinemas perpetually fail to make the review and listing sections of the mainstream press. Fresh off the sleeper success of Bend It Like Beckham, director Gurinder Chadha seems like a promising matchmaker to properly introduce Hindi sense and sensibilities to Western audiences. Unfortunately, her seemingly ingenious bhangra-song-and-kathak-dance update of Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice dilutes that piquant masala flavour to cater to the food-court palette.

In Bride & Prejudice, Bollywood's reining queen Aishwarya Rai of Devdas stars as Elizabeth Bennet - oops - Lalita Bashki, one of the prized daughters for whom her traditional Indian family eagerly wants to find a suitor. Martin Henderson plays pompous American hotel-empire heir "Will" Darcy, who accompanies his pal Bingley - sorry - Balraj (Naveen Andrews) to the rural Amritsar to arrange a monsoon wedding. Mr. Darcy's nemesis Wickham (Daniel Gillies) happens to be vacationing at a local beach resort where Ashanti is conveniently plugging her new track.

Other than trimming an hour off the typical three-hour-plus running time, the film follows most of Bollywood's wet-sari, no-kissing traditions step by step. Still, its various concessions aimed at kid-gloving Western audiences are decidedly underwhelming. Not only are its musical interludes few and far between, but the film frequently cuts away from the convoluted choreography so characters can relay English lyrical translation and poke fun at peculiar dance moves. Quite a number of scenes - such as the opening montage - scream for musical treatment but fall on Chadha's deaf ear. Rai bears a bizarre resemblance to a younger and slimmer Kirstie Alley here, while the director must have explicitly instructed Henderson to imitate Tom Cruise. His Mr. Darcy even sports a haircut and a tan jacket seemingly fallen from Vanilla Sky. All this attention to trifling detail quickly becomes tedious, and Bride & Prejudice ultimately does as much justice to the satin allure of B-wood as does The Guru. Since Harvey Weinstein handily makes a cameo during the end-credits outtakes, you get the idea who's to blame.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.