Yesterday I went to see Bride & Prejudice at my local cinema multiplex (VUE cinema in Harrow).
(Thanks to Lisa for kind permission to use her picture of London city skyline in the montage above.)
It’s obvious what the story is about - so there isn’t really much by the way of “spoiler” in this review - but if you don’t want my opinion before having seen it yourself - then don’t press MORE below to continue …
Well - what can I say? Being Aishwarya Rai’s number one fan in London - I just have to say that the film was great - and it truly was! Although it was only as the film developed - and perhaps even only afterwards, i.e. in retrospect, that this opinion took shape in my mind.
First of all - let me say that there were two particular moments in the film that caused a surge of “patriotic” emotional excitement in me - and these were:
- The opening sequence of the chapter which finds the Bakshi girls arriving in UK - here there is some spectacular footage of London - amongst which there is a rather breathtaking “fly-over” of Canary Wharf at night - culminating in a car pulling up onto the front drive of an ordinary 1930s suburban semi-detached house in West London!
- A scene shot in the kitchen of Mr Kholi’s house in suburban Los Angeles - where Lalita (Aishwarya) is “kneading the atta” (atta = roti/chappati dough) and Chandra (her best friend) is washing a bunch of fresh dhania (coriander) and picking the leaves off the stems! (This scene of ordinary Punjabi cooking really got me going!)
It also has to be said that this film is, unashamedly, first and foremost an exhibition of Aishwarya, followed closely behind by an exposure of all things Punjabi & “Bollywood” designed for Western audiences (specifically American audiences - and irritatingly so - more on this point later) - all pretty much loosely held together by the storyline from Jane Austen’s famous novel.
And the only reason why the story works at all - is becase it’s well-proven Austen. The Pride & Prejudice storyline provides a foundation for director Gurinder Chadha to thrust Ash onto the international stage, showcasing Indian cinema, and educating the niaive American public with some clues as to what India - and Indians - are all about - and all in that order. And the reason why the storyline works so well is because once again, rather sadly, it centres around the theme of arranged marriage. (When will we start thinking of other stories to cross-over with?)
So - starting with Ash: Stunning Aishwarya gets centre stage in the movie - with much of the screenplay focussing on each and every demonstration of her ability to engage the audience with her beauty and her expressions of every type of emotion - right down to the slightest facial twitch. All credit to Chadha and Ash for limiting the amount of “flesh” too - the film is extremely family friendly - and no; you will not see Ash in a swimsuit - and no you won’t see her snogging (kissing) - not even a peck. Not only is this a play by Chadha on the sensibilities of Indian Cinema - for she teases us with several obvious about-to-kiss-but-no-not-this-time moments - I am dreading the day when Indian female talent in international cinema is “Angelina-Jolied” or “Halle Berried” or such as like. I know it will happen at some point - but not at this stage, please! Not only does Ash captivate with her looks and gorgeous smile - she gets to show off her ability to dance in some Johar-ish style stage sets with some Devdas-ish edges (not surprising as the choreography was by Saroj Khan) - as well as showing off her fluency in English - which although accented mildly Indian - works perfectly in the context. Aishwarya’s role as Lalita (paralleling Elizabeth Bennet of the Austen novel) does not test her (or indeed any of the actors) at all. There is very little by the way of “difficult” dialogue, expression or challenging cinematic action. Thus - there is very little that can go wrong, and conversely, very little that shines in terms of acting performance.
And so; on quality of acting overall - I give the film 5 out of 10 precisely because there is so little to challenge the cast. However, if there was one person that deserves being singled out in terms of quality of acting - it’s Anupam Kher playing the father Mr Bakshi. Once again - Kher puts on a very convincing and credible portrayal of the father (he was the Jesse’s father in Bend It Like Beckham) - but this is something we have grown to expect from him: solid and dependable acting. I must also mention that Nitin Ganatra (playing the comical Mr Kholi) does a fantastic job of making us laugh - and his own laugh and hand gestures on screen will be something that surely all audiences will go home remembering!
The showcasing of Indian cinema - or “Bollywood” as it has come to be known - is done reasonably well - but there is a lot of satire in the exposure of this dimension that will probably not “click” with audiences not already familiar with Bollywood and it’s nuances. This is not necessarily a bad thing - as it provides some entertainment for those of us who are - but it risks leaving the non-Asian audience with a “well I suppose that’s just the way it is” feeling as opposed to the “that’s an excellent spoof or piss-take” feeling. Examples of this: When Balraj breaks out into athletic Hrithik Roshan style dance at the wedding - where the “Balle Balle” song setting is so obviously a Karan Johar spoof (think the opening song to K3G) - to the bit in the song where Ash ties the “choonie” of her sari around her waist during the boy-girl “baiting” in the song. Further parodies include the “cobra dance” - which appears to be a play on one time popular-in-the-seventies actress Sri Devi, and a song/dance scene that takes place amongst some fountains hinting at a “wet-sari” arrangement - as well as the “dishoom” fight-scene bit towards the end.
There was one aspect to the film that I found initially quite jarring - and that was the singing in English to all except the “Balle Balle” song. I almost had my head in my hands when it first occured in the “celebration” song near the beginning. It just didn’t work for me at all with that song - this being the most cringe-worthy part of the whole show. The more objective side of me says that Chadha can get away with it in this film because it’s a comedy - but I would rather that she had stuck to recording the singing in Hindi and parodied on the interpretation using exaggerated subtitles rather than going full hog with the lyrics in English. As the film develops though - almost all of the rest of the musical numbers are ballads (with the exception of the highly situational “no life without a wife” song). And so the English singing to Indian-style musical inflexions works quite well - and you certainly get used to it as the film progresses - and there are some moments during the songs when you feel like you’re watching Oliver Twist - or Annie - or something like that. As for the “no life without wife” song - well this passes too - and only because it serves quite a useful comical interlude in the film.
Aspects of Indian culture are well represented - the emphasis on “family” (this film could be just and Indian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), food (as the essential focal point of all social goings-on), the highly-tactile nature of Indian siblings (which some Western audiences might find a little disturbing at first), the fact that the older generation Indian woman tends to openly and incessantly stare at the younger Indian man - yep this aspect is alive and well in London too: I still get stared at in this way whenever I get on the bus in the mornings - by the older Indian ladies sitting on the bottom deck. (Which is why I always proceed straight to the upper deck!)
And so on to the aspect of the film that involves educating Westerners. Specifically American Westerners - as the more culturally sophisticated British audiences have less of a need for it. Essential to the plot is the initial rejection of Darcy by Lalita - and her politics come across quite assertively. Is this an attempt by Gurinder Chadha to get her own politics across I wonder? I sure hope so! There is a strong condemnation-of-lack-of-American-sophistication undertone in the presentation - not only in the casting of Darcy as an American - but also in Mr. Kohli as an American Desi. (Desi = Indian outside India - or NRI - non-resident Indian). This contrasts with the pro-British undertone - exampled by the character of Balraj being cast as a British Desi - and the storyline just wanting to make sure that Balraj and Jaya Bakshi (Lalita’s sister) get it together in the end. There are two specific dialogues in the film that provide clues that serve to illustrate these things:
- Lack-of-American-sophisitcation: When Lalita challenges Darcy’s imposing mother with an assertion that goes something like - “you don’t stop going to Italy just because there’s a Pizza Hut on every street corner.“
- Pro-Britishness: Darcy is having an argument with Lalita - and she delivers a tirade in his direction about the negative American attitudes towards Indians - mentioning Britian in the same sentence - and he tries to correct her by saying “Actually I’m American - not British” - and she responds with “Exactly!“
So, to conclude - it was an interesting film - and will absolutely make it into my DVD collection when it’s released - but only because 1) It has Ash in it - and I have every film that features her - and 2) because it’s made in UK - is partly set in London - and is about a Punjabi family. All these things in my mind make it a great film. But if I put these things to one side - is it really a “GREAT” film? Probably not - the acting isn’t great - the storyline isn’t original - the arranged marriage theme is getting a little tiring - and the experiments with English lyrics in English vocal lines applied to Indian songs sung by Indians gives mixed results. The comedy is good - but not brilliant - and is supported (only-just) by the parts of Mr.Kholi and Mrs.Bakshi - although the most memorable funny moments are definitely those of Mr.Kohli. And because it’s a comedy - it’s not a GREAT film - and it’s a “showcase” film - and for these reasons alone it’s worth seeing. In my opinion, Bend It Like Beckham was a GREAT film - and a much better film from director Chadha. All in all - Bride & Prejudice does not disappoint too much - and where it does - it makes up for in what it showcases. Worth seeing just to see how versatile Aishwarya Rai can be in terms of screen presence - and marks the first of her adventure in crossing over into the International cinema world. In fact - worth seeing for this reason alone!
PS - if you watch this film in the cinema hall - then don’t walk out in a hurry when the film ends - as there are some interesting and funny out-takes in the end-credit sequence. Out-takes that feature Gurinder Chadha and other members of the film crew.
PPS - and just in case British audiences “poke fun” at the somewhat absurdity of the bhangra dancing (the style of dancing that involves holding your arms up above your head and shouting “balle balle”) - director Gurinder Chadha features traditional English Morris dancers in the scenes set in UK. And when you see this bit - you realise that Morris dancing is simply another form of bhangra! :-)Posted by jag at October 17, 2004 04:49 PM