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Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Namrata Shirodkar, Naveen Andrews, Meghnaa, Peeya Rai Choudhuri, Nitin Ganatra, Daniel Gillies, Indira Verma, Sonali Kulkarni, Marsha Mason, Nadira Babbar and Anupam Kher
Subhash K. Jha, IANS
It is so easy and slot-friendly to mistake a celebration of Bollywood's kitsch to be actual kitsch. But to confuse Gurinder Chadha's delicious, walloping and wacky adaptation of Jane Austen as a take on the Bollywood formula is to, quite simply, confuse the wood for the trees.
Jane Austen meets Manoj Kumar in "Bride & Prejudice". And they are finally moulded into a vision that's entirely and incontrovertibly Chadha's. In her projection of the classic and the kitsch in the same range of vision, Beckham begum has achieved what no other filmmaker from any part of the world would dare, let alone achieve.
The radiant, roomy, billowy frames bulge and dilate with a wickedly spaced-out festivity as the Bakshi daughters get themselves suitable boys... Or rather, their mother, played with a devious combination of maudlin theatricality and graceful subtlety by the wonderful Nadira Babbar, goes at every potential match for her marriageable kittens with hammers and tongs.
The comic element in her tragic matchmaking is one of the elements in Chadha's rollicking range of interwoven interests, which turns the Bollywood formula on its head. In how many ways is Nadira Babbar different from the stereotypical Mama's act like, say, Himani Shivpuri in Sooraj Barjatya's "Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon"?
The swift and cunning transitions in Mrs Bakshi's character from tragic concern for her daughters to vulgar self interest (watch out for the sequence on the flight when Mrs Bakshi quickly changes her economy-class seat with Darcy's executive luxury) is extended in the film to a remarkably understated comment on cross-cultural differences that define the geopolitical diaspora of a globally-driven ambitious and anxious civilisation.
By relocating Jane Austen's trans-Atlantic romance to an Indo-British context, Chadha brings in the whole post-colonial modern Indian dilemma of globalisation and cultural homogenisation.
There are some acutely penetrating comments on the colonial hangover in independent India and the consumerist vulgarisation of the non-resident Indian represented with relish by the character played by Nitin Ganatra. He's your archetypal bride-hunting Indian from abroad who talks incessantly about his material possessions "back home" in the US.
In her ability to mould the literary material into a shape that shimmers with Bollywood flamboyance and simmers with ideas on cultural divisions, Gurinder Chadha is uniquely positioned.
There's a song-and-dance for every occasion -- an engagement bhangra, a night-time pyjama-party among the four sisters (this one is superbly choreographed by Saroj Khan) and the belching flamboyance of Amritsar's robust earthiness as all of the Golden City comes out on the streets to salute the four marriageable Bakshi sisters in a musical item that's more Broadway than Bollywood.
The central romance between the reticent and mysterious Darcy (Martin Henderson) and Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is structured as a kind of familial pyramid where truckloads of supporting characters enter and exeunt with a celebratory celerity that would stun the family home video maker Sooraj Barjatya.
Chadha's Bollywood influences run deep in the narrative without cutting into the blithe mood. She begins with a homage to Manoj Kumar's "Meri desh ki dharti" song from the film "Upkar" as Santosh Sivan's non-judgemental camera pans the lush fields of Amritsar.
Chadha climaxes her quirky take of culture-crossed courtships with a brilliantly staged mise en scene inside a theatre screening Manoj Kumar's "Purab Aur Paschim" in Los Angeles. As Manoj Kumar rescues the overly westernised Saira Bano from rape in London on screen, Martin Henderson does a bit of the same with the youngest Bakshi daughter (played with saucy aggression by Peeya Rai Chaudhuri) in the theatre screening "Purab Aur Paschim".
The tongue-in-cheek mood of the Bollywood homage as it collides and mingles with Jane Austen's novel provides the plot an ideal macro view of a world -- and cultures -- in a state of furious flux.
Chadha grabs at the flux, harnesses it into a delightfully cross-pollinated depiction of romance and music. The Darcy-Lalita liaison, so gentle in its suggestions of deception and drama, grows through the couple's conceited conversations in corporatised courtships and culminates in a riotous Punjabi wedding with elephants, flowers, red carpets and scores and scores of flamboyant turbans caught in provocative top shots by Santosh Sivan's camera.
For once Sivan doesn't give the narrative that classic 'Sivan' look. Instead he lets go, to wield the camera with an accommodating flamboyance that goes well with the vibrancy that Chadha unleashes on the frames. Anu Malik's deliberately cheesy songs open up Chadha's flamboyant subversion of Bollywood even more.
Apart from Daniel Gillies' character as Lalita's lower-class British suitor (who comes across as more stilted than satirical), the performances are almost unfailingly first-rate. But you wish there was more of the makeup less Namrata Shirodkar as the Plain Jane eldest sister. Still, her courtship with the NRI Navin Andrews (accompanied by a hoity-toity sister played with superb self control by Indira Verma) comes through in minimal space.
While Martin Henderson's expressions of cultural shock in Amritsar (specially when Meghnaa playing the clumsy untalented sister, breaks into Sridevi's snake dance) are dead-on, it's Aishwarya Rai who comes into her own as a global star. Not since Sanjay Bhansali's cinema has she displayed such a skilled splendour on celluloid. Lalita's prideful dignity and her refusal to stoop to her mother's vulgar groom-hunting tactics are crystallized by Aishwarya in expressions that range from the classic to the contemporary, broad to the brittle, fey to the fragile. That she looks like a zillion bucks should also help realise her global dream.
Jane Austen can rest easy. The 'Bend-It Queen' Gurinder Chadha bends Austen with a supple sinewy splendour that would have brought a cheer, if not a tear, to the author's face.
Indeed Chadha does to Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" what Sanjay Leela Bhansali did to Saratchandra's "Devdas". She opens up the novel, contemporises its classic contours, makes the characters not only more warm and accessible but also far funnier and sassier that Austen imagined them to be.
"Bride & Prejudice" is an eyeball-bashing riot of colours and melodrama that goes way beyond the borders, which define Bollywood entertainment.