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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Austen Translation
by David Haviland

Gurinder Chadha’s last film was Bend It Like Beckham, a wonderful treat which became a surprise global hit. For her latest she has chosen another national treasure, Pride and Prejudice, and adapted this most English of novels into a lurid, Bollywood-style musical.

The film transplants the story to Amritsar, rural India, where Mrs Bakshi is determined to marry off her four daughters. Progress is made when the eligible Mr. Balraj arrives, as he takes a keen interest in Jaya, the eldest of the girls.

Balraj also brings a friend, Darcy, a wealthy American hotelier, but attempts to pair him off with the snappy Lalita fail as he comes across as proud and arrogant. Instead, Lalita starts falling for Wickham, an easygoing traveller with a long-held grudge against Darcy.

The story moves to Goa, London and Beverly Hills, as the characters are brought together by a series of weddings. These changes may sound substantial, but despite the geographical shifts the script stays surprisingly faithful to Austen’s novel, in plot terms at least.

Around this plot Chadha has created a traditional, lavish Bollywood musical, with all the good and bad that that implies. Mostly, it’s a successful combination, as the melodramatic story is well suited to this kind of camp treatment. Chadha uses a mainly Indian cast and crew, with the result that much of the film looks authentic, unlike the pastiche approach of The Guru.

However although an authentic Bollywood sensibility might be desirable, authentic Bollywood box office would not, so Chadha has taken obvious steps to broaden the film’s global appeal.

Most of these are sensible moves, using the Working Title blueprint for global domination. The cast includes a number of well-known British and American faces, including The Ring’s Martin Henderson as Darcy. The film covers three continents, taking in such landmarks as the London Eye and the Grand Canyon.

However, the score suffers from this scattergun approach, as the western-style pop songs seem incongruous, partly because of the different singing style required, but mainly because the songs in question simply aren’t as good as the film’s more traditional numbers.

Nonetheless, this is a thoroughly entertaining film which successfully brings together the best elements of both Bollywood and the novel. Some of the musical routines are thrilling, with lurid Busby Berkeley-style choreography. The Indian cast are generally good, particularly veteran Anupam Kher as the Bakshis’ downtrodden father.

At the heart of the story, of course, is the romance between Lalita and Darcy, which is suitably fiery. Lalita is played by the stunning Aishwarya Rai, who successfully conveys the character’s combination of intelligence and downright stroppiness. Darcy is an equally complex character, and Martin Henderson makes him diffident and shy, which seems a sensible approach for a character who allows himself to be so consistently misunderstood.

Bride and Prejudice is an old-fashioned musical, which delights in romance, spectacle and a gorgeous cast. Some of the humour may be too broad for more sophisticated audiences, but overall this is a charming way to spend a couple of hours.

(Released by Miramax Films and rated "PG-13" for some sexual references. Opened in the UK on October 8, 2004.)

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