Bride and Prejudice
Review Date: 3.22 .05
Bride and Prejudice is the new movie by Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend it Like Beckham. It tells the story of Pride and Prejudice as a Bollywood movie and stars, as Lizzie, Aishwarya Rai renamed Lalita Bakshi. The story combines Austen's social satire/inheritance anxieties/marriage plot with more modern commentary on the tendency of westernized South Asian émigrés to prefer to "return" to find wives not yet Americanized beyond control. The prejudice Balraj and, later, Mr. Kholi, initially exhibit regarding their country mice feminine compatriots quickly gives way before a heavy-handed lesson in the savvy of the modern South Asian high bourgeoisie, and the four unmarried Bakshi daughters in Amritsar show the Brits and Americans a thing or two about deception, wit, and, of course, Mother India.
Darcy, played by Martin Henderson, is an American and, accompanying his South Asian British friend Balraj to an Indian wedding, gasps in horror at the crowds and festivities that surround him. He falls for Lalita, the second daughter, who finds him stuffy, obnoxious, and generally hopelessly Eurocentric. Interspersed with a plot involving romance, misunderstanding, estrangement, and more romance followed by marriages, are extravagant scenes of dancing and singing, accompanied by great music and dazzling color. And it works. The literary and cultural critic who wrote Orientalism, Edward Said, would have been proud, for his claim that 19th century British novels are suffused with symptoms of the colonial ventures of the empire, is flaunted here, taken way over the top, and updated to 21st century "post-"colonial conditions.
Aspects of the film border on satire, but heartwarming-ness takes over and even the parody can't really sustain itself. Chadha clearly feels great affection for what she pokes fun of, from the extravagant weddings and arranged matches to the inheritance and marriage-obsessed maternal anxieties Mrs. Bakshi displays. There is a lot of romanticizing going on, probably due to Chadha's diasporic provenance (she's Kenyan-born and raised in London) and to her mission to school ignorant Americans and maybe even Brits in the cultural pride of South Asians. What bothered me here also bothered me in Bend it Like Beckham: fathers are idealized beyond believability, exhibiting only a wish for their daughters' happiness, while mothers are shown to be greedy, status-conscious, and willfully opposed to their daughters' desires for self-determination. But all of this is wrapped up in rose-colored glasses, since everyone is ultimately good, with the exception perhaps of the one English cad-lower class, of course-who tries to abscond with the Bakshi's youngest daughter. Speaking of class, this movie oddly both focuses its gaze on the lower classes, seemingly gratuitously, and elides any commentary that would suggest that India too, has issues around class exploitation. Finally, there's yet another homophobic moment, as there was in bend it Like Beckham. One gets the impression Chadha's trying to make up for the uproar caused by Deepa Mehta's Fire.
But it might just be too much to criticize the representations in Bride and Prejudice. It's a generic tour de force, a splendid spectacle, and a rollicking good time. Go see it.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.