Bride & Prejudice (9/10)

by Tony Medley

This is like no movie you’ve ever seen before. Oh, sure, it’s Jane Austen again, but even Jane would be surprised at this one.

Welcome to Bollywood! The name is a contraction of Bombay and Hollywood and it refers to an Indian film industry that produces more than 800 features every year. And they are old time Hollywood major studio type productions that are full of rich colors, reminiscent of the glorious three strip Technicolor films circa 1935-55, over the top drama, broad comedy and wonderfully extravagant song-and-dance numbers.

This is the same old Jane Austen story we’ve seen so many times. There’s Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, an able successor to Laurence Olivier and Colin Firth, among others) again, only this time he’s an elite arrogant American heir to a major hotel chain, run by his mother, Catherine (Marsha Mason), Lizzy Bennett, renamed Lalita Bakshi (a gorgeous Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood’s reigning star), and the villainous bad boy Wickham (Daniel Gillies). Mr Bingley is recast as Balraj (Naveen Andrews, who is presently playing J.J. Abrams in the hit ABC series “Lost”), Darcy’s best friend, who is in love with Lalita’s sister, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar, a former Miss India), and the comical Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra) who wants a wife, any wife, steps in as Austen’s Reverend Mr. Collins.

Instead of a story of love between upper and lower classes as formulated by the 19th Century Austen, this is a love story spanning the globe between different nationalities and cultures.

Writer-producer-director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend it Like Beckham,” 2002), a movie-making genius, is telling the same story Austen wrote and filmmakers have been making for generations. Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babar) has four daughters and she wants them married (Austen wrote, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”). She’s frustrated by Lalita’s feisty independence and is determined to marry her off. More sympathetic to Lalita is her father, Mr. Bakshi (Anumpham Kher, who was also the father in “Beckham”), who finally tells Lalita, “If you don’t marry Mr. Kholi, your mother will disown you. If you do marry him, I will disown you.”

But forget the story. Enough to say that it’s funny and romantic. There’s a good guy and a bad guy and beautiful women and all the men are handsome. There’s conflict that gets resolved. This movie is not about the story. It just knocks you out visually. The colors are intense. Even though the locale jumps from Amritsar to Goa to London to Santa Monica, every scene has such vivid, eye-popping colors that it looks like you’re seeing them for the first time. Acclaimed Indian cinematographer Santosh Sivan has created a film with colors and shots of which Vincent Van Gogh would be proud. This movie is worth seeing for the colors alone!

The music, all original by the legendary Bollywood composer Anu Malik, with lyrics by Farhan and Zoya Akhtar, is upbeat and lively. Even though the players break out in song and dance at the drop of a sari, the Akhtars honed the film’s songs line by line and note by note to assure that they would be integral to the unfolding story. All the dance numbers are choreographed by Saroj Khan, a 5 foot 2 martinet, who required Henderson to learn all the steps of all the dances, even though he wasn’t in most of them. “It’s good for you,” she said when he complained. “She transformed me,” he agrees.

I think the best way to sum up this film is to paraphrase 1920’s Hollywood publicity; on top of the visual feast, it’s “all singing, all dancing, all talkie, all fun!” If you see any film in 2005, see this one.

January 21, 2005

The End