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Published: Friday, 4/8/2005

Movie review: Bride and Prejudice ***

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jane Austen s Pride and Prejudice famously opens: It s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Gurinder Chadha s cheeky, rollicking Bride and Prejudice includes something, um, different a musical number called No Life Without a Wife.

Then there s a pajama party so bubbly it makes the scene in Grease look like Ingmar Bergman. Then a number called Marriage Comes to Town, and the singer is not a socially minded, class-conscious English daughter named Elizabeth Bennett, but a Bollywood superstar (and L Oreal model) named Aishwarya Rai.

Pride and Prejudice, when it s adapted to the big and small screens, comes in tweeds and clenched jaws; its observations about the subtleties of love and social standing can be applied to any culture, regardless of the decade. But Bride and Prejudice, directed by Chadha, best known for the ingratiatingly fluffy Bend it Like Beckham, asks a number of unlikely questions:

What if Austen were alive and not so juiced about cutting a deal with the BBC and A&E? What if what she really wanted was an Indian adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that played as off-the-rails as an Elvis Presley musical?

Pride and Clambake, anyone?

Beach Blanket Bhindi?

Colorful, jingly, and unabashedly kitschy, Bride and Prejudice is a cross-culture mix and a love letter to an genre that s outlandish by nature the Bollywood musical romance, a proud product of India, often more than three hours long, completely predictable, and sort of a one-stop shop for all your cinematic needs: There s adventure, song and dance, political comment, slapstick, romance, sentiment, parody, opera even a moral.

Bride and Prejudice plays a bit like the looniest and a bit like the most cautious; it s sanctimonious when it means to cross cultural divides. At its best, it appears as if it were made in a happy fever.

(How else to explain the appearance of Miramax s Harvey Weinstein, just wandering by as if he s lost? How else to explain that musical number from Ashanti?)

Infectiously sunny, silly, wall-to-wall with beautiful people in saris and turbans and crisp white kurta jackets performing ridiculous dance moves, it s the first thing I d want to look at in the morning. Two minutes could be as mood-altering as Prozac.

And just as artificial.

Bride and Prejudice should not be confused with an authentic Bollywood spectacular. Instead, it s a canny attempt at indoctrinating Western audiences to the charms of Bollywood by using a British classic for the foundation and an American studio (Miramax) for the crew. The story, if you ve neither read Austen s 1813 novel or seen one of the numerous adaptations, is about two prideful lovers who meet abrasively and gradually overcome prejudice and realize how perfect they are for one another. My guess is the average moviegoer is more familiar with Austen-thrice-removed, by way of the Bridget Jones Diary series.

Both include a man named Darcy. Here, he is an American businessman named Will Darcy, played by Martin Henderson.

He appears frightened and intimidated to a comical extent. I think I know why: Elizabeth Bennett becomes Lalita Bakshi, and Rai is so striking; when she dances, the camera reveals she never looks winded or sweaty. Her hair barely moves. They meet when Darcy and his friend, (Naveen Andrews, who plays the Iraqi on Lost) come to Lalita s rural village for a wedding.

Director Mira Nair awkwardly inserted a Bollywood touch in last year s Vanity Fair, and that novel was already packed with wars, dozens of characters, a duplicitous heroine. A Bollywood number was the last thing it needed. Austen, on the other hand, stripped of what makes Austen great, still serves as a surprisingly handy coat rack, and a coat rack of a plot is all Bollywood has ever asked for. When a challenger (Daniel Gillies) for Lalita s affections literally appears out of the ocean surf and strolls up on the beach to make his move, you stop asking questions. Which is usually about time for another song and dance number about India anyway.

Also, by the way: That incredibly beautiful (though somewhat chilly) female lead, Aishwarya Rai, is considered the Queen of Bollywood and considering the immense size of the Indian film industry, this makes her roughly equivalent to 17 Julia Roberts. (The press notes say Rai is so popular in India she was allowed to star in TV commercials for both Coke and Pepsi.) With Bride and Prejudice, that American anonymity will change; she s already set to co-star in a slew of Hollywood films. For the record, her name is pronounced Ash-why-ree-uh.

Remember it. You ll need it.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.comor 419-724-6117.



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