How do you make another screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel fresh and creative? Give it to director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham). Bride and Prejudice is a modern-day take on Austen's classic, Pride and Prejudice -- this time set in India, where arranged marriages are still common. Chadha introduces us to the lighthearted Bakshi family, where Mrs. Bakshi is working desperately to marry off her four daughters because she and her husband don't have a dowry for them. The oldest two, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) and Lalita (Aishwarya Rai), meet and befriend two wealthy Englishmen, (Naveen Andrews of Lost and Martin Henderson), at a friend's wedding. And while Jaya and the Indian-Englishman, Balraj, hit it off immediately, Lalita develops an extreme dislike for the WASPy Will Darcy, who, in all his innocently bewildered white-man fumblings, makes some insulting remarks about her culture, thus setting off a series of hot run-ins and some thinly disguised attraction. There's no shortage of stereotyping here, but the film pokes fun at itself, infusing plenty of one-liners and good-hearted jabs at the cheesy romantic comedy genre.
Chadha follows Austen well, capturing lovers' misunderstandings and plenty of chaste Austen-style repressed lust. But to be clear, Bride and Prejudice is no study of Austen, nor is it focused on the literature in any meaningful way. This is a Bollywood-meets-Hollywood comedy that makes its culture-clashing points in vibrant, colorful, well-lit settings.
For those unfamiliar with Bollywood (India's version of Hollywood and its own mega-industry), plan on feeling a little confused. Things may look familiar at first, but from the expressions
on the actors' faces to the moments when they break into song, it's not quite what you're used to seeing at the movies. Think Grease,
Bride and Prejudice is bursting with energy, color and laughter. If you can't find anything enjoyable about the film, from Lalita's pretty face to the all-black church choir singing on risers on the beach, then check your pulse.