|Jane Austen wrote only six novels in her short life and each of them has been treated to a variety of film adaptations over the past century and Bride & Prejudice marks the first time one of her stories has been transformed into a "Bollywood" musical. The majority of films released in India, a country boasting the largest film production and attendance rate in the world, are musicals with the genre possessing a very strict set of rules and conventions that are nearly always followed by Indian filmmakers.|
And although Bride & Prejudice stands out from the traditional Indian production simply because the nearly every word in the film is spoken in English, the film still retains the majority of its genre's conventions. For example, lead star Aishwarya Rai has never kissed another actor on screen despite having made over thirty films in less than a decade and in Bride & Prejudice, despite its existence as a romance, she keeps this kiss-free status. And despite the intense familiarity American audiences have with on-screen kissing, the fact that nobody shares a kiss in this film is a big sign the filmmakers were determined to keep their musical true to its Indian roots.
Existing as a Bollywood musical mainly from the preponderance of spontaneous musical sequences and choreographed musical numbers, some elements of the "strict" Bollywood rules that have earned criticism by filmmakers in India are elements that an American or Western audience might take as innovative or entertaining. American audiences have seen plenty of musicals, but a Bollywood musical is usually a very emotional, melodramatic and bubbly experience with enough costume changes to clothe the entire population of Delhi.
And Bride & Prejudice disappoints on none of these elements. Casting the most famous Bollywood star in the world would earn this film a guaranteed audience in India, but Aishwarya Rai's appeal extends beyond her trademark blue-green eyes. A strong performer in both her speaking and dance sequences, her Bollywood fame is well-deserved and American audiences should enjoy her entrance into English speaking films as "Lalitha Bakshi," the Indian equivalent of Austen's Elizabeth Bennett. Her pairing with leading co-star Martin Henderson, who plays "William Darcy" (the character's named modified from Austen's Fitzwilliam Darcy), results in a good chemistry between the actors and represents an improvement in Martin Henderson's feature film choices.
Having most recently starred in the laughable motorcycle "action" film Torque, this change in genre for Henderson results in a redemption of his acting status. Also entering in fine form are Rai and Henderson's supporting cast, a group of actors which includes citizens of three different continents. The most entertaining and comedic performance in the film easily belongs to Nadira Babbar, an actress with but two feature film credits, who plays Rai's mother, "Mrs. Bakshi." Babbar probably has the funniest lines in the film and delivers them with well-timed and quick humor.
A close second to Babbar's comedic performance is that of Nitin Chandra Ganatra, who plays "Mr. Kholi," an Indian who has relocated to Hollywood to live but has returned to India with the hopes of snagging an obedient wife. Additional supporting performances from actors such as Anupam Kher (playing Rai's father), Naveen Andrews (playing Henderson's best friend), Indira Varma (playing Andrews' sister), and Namrata Shirodkar, Meghna Kothari, and Peeya Rai Chowdhary (all playing Rai's sisters) ensure a well-cast film on all continents. In more minor roles, Americans Alexis Bledel and Marsha Mason make strong performances with their few scenes as members of the Darcy family.
As it to be expected in any Bollywood musical, the dance numbers are enthusiastic and with the support of American investment dollars, the budget has allowed for clean and bright production values that showcase the Indian locations and clothing at their most beautiful. American (Los Angeles) and English (London) locations are also shot with an eye toward showcasing the most recognizable elements of each locale and the many destinations allow for a movie with much to offer visually. And while the picture might best be identified as a Bollywood musical, there are still some Western influences that make this picture a true merging of Indian and Western film.
Although prior fans of musicals might be the best targeted audience for this film, casual viewers and people unfamiliar with a rousing Bollywood soundtrack might find themselves bouncing in their seats each time the cast bursts out into song and dance. But the singing and dancing aren't the only draws here, with the dialogue existing as equally sprightly and the performances hitting all their marks on both the dramatic and comedic fronts needed in a romantic comedy. A beautiful film to watch and an entertaining film to hear, Bride & Prejudice is a carefree and high spirited experience.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.