Bride and Prejudice

Culture and Media

I must be one of the last people to see this film before its official release, and as films go, this was quite enjoyable, not as good as Bhaji or Beckham, but it had its moments. The Hollywood Reporter has a pretty accurate assessment of the film:

Bride & Prejudice” is like an Elvis Presley musical from the 60s, filled with shiny bright colors, bouncy music and happy, smiling, pretty people. Like those old pop vehicles, this upbeat blend of Bollywood and Jane Austen is an acquired taste. While the plot is inane and the acting bland, the film’s relentless effervescence may endear it to mainstream audiences.

I wasn’t going to write about Bride and Prejudice but something about it kept nagging me, and it is largely the character of Mr. Darcy. He is supposed to be an upper-class American, and it was all wrong. The clash between Lalita and Darcy takes place within the context of a cultural clash. We are supposed to believe that Darcy finds India’s underdevelopment daunting, and Lalita thinks of him as an Imperialist. It would have worked much better if Darcy had been a Donald Trump like character, a little more brash, in that American upwardly mobile way, then the sensitive Lalita’s aversion to him would have had some dramatic resonance. Martin Henderson’s Darcy was sort of Englishy (thankfully we were spared Hugh Grant in that role), which didn’t quite work.

I am not complaining about the cultural authenticity of the characters, as much as their lack of dramatic resonance, a problem endemic to the script. Not for a moment does one believe that the characters actually have anything at stake and want something so badly that they will take some sort of drastic action. I think it comes from the mixture of styles–Bollywood and Romantic comedy, and a misunderstanding of the style itself that is at fault. Bollywood films are highly emotional, under the baroque surface of its melodramatic storyline there are monumental passions at work, at least when the film is successful. Take the case of Munna Bhai MBBS, a hysterically funny film, which never the less manages to convince you that there are deep emotions at work–it shamelessly trots out a young man dying of cancer, a much beloved father falling deathly sick, filial devotion and more, its just not a frothy extravaganza of song and dance sequences, a surface that Bride and Prejudice takes from Bollywood films, and not some of the other elements that make a Bollywood film work. Still, despite its failures, Bride and Prejudice’s mixture of styles feels like part of something interesting.