This swirling, shiny spin on the 1813 Jane Austen novel by director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) is a Bollywood spectacle aimed to please as it doesn’t really dote on story and character.
Bride & Prejudice is transposed to rural Amritsar, India from bucolic England, looking more striking than areas devastated by the recent tsunami and aftershocks from Southeast Asia’s catastrophic earthquake. The treatment by Chadha is superficial but so sunny that it feels like a lavish homage to 60's musicals like Beach Blanket Bingo and Viva Las Vegas.
There are the native Bakshi sisters instead of the Bennetts and Mr. Darcy is intact as a wealthy American hotel manager. The themes of culture, race, and class are positioned but not developed nearly like the effort placed into some ravishing productions values.
It’s not important to dwell on the meek status of the Bakshis as Amritsar isn’t quite the tourist attraction of an otherwise cinematic travelogue that extends to London, Goa, and Beverly Hills.
Mrs. Bakshi, the wryly encouraging Nadira Babbar, wants to marry off her four beautiful girls, showcased by the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai as the sister Lalita. This is a star turn for Rai, a Bollywood queen and a world beauty pageant champ who stands out among her looker siblings played by Meghnaa, Namrata Shirodkar, and Peeya Rai Choduri.
Profiled on “60 Minutes” Rai proves too special for suitors like Darcy, stiffly rendered by Martin Henderson (The Ring), and an Indian from London, Balraj, done tepidly by Naveen Andrews. Marsha Mason turns up as Darcy’s biased magnate of a mother and singer Ashanti (Coach Carter) plays herself. Daniel Gillies (Spider-Man 2) is a handsome Brit who makes things difficult for Darcy. Nitin Ganatra is the scene-stealing Mr. Kholi, a successful accountant from L.A. The over-the-top gentleman fits right into the delirious interludes belted out by the sisters.
Chadha probably won’t connect with the mainstream this time as “Bride” takes more flamboyant directions in smoothing out a path towards love. Yet for many, the winsome Rai and lively music and well-choreographed dancing add up to mischievous, gorgeous fun Bollywood style.
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