Our Daily Bread

Pair with Michael Pollan's treatises on food, or with The Gleaners and I and King Corn —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

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The sparkles on the opening title tell viewers that this is not a movie to be taken too seriously. Indeed, Bride & Prejudice, an Anglo-Indian musical adaptation of the famed Jane Austen novel, is enjoyable fluff. Attractive people, meet, fall in love, argue, and sometimes sing and dance. Touted as a blend of Eastern and Western cinema, the Indian elements of the film and the clash of cultures make it more interesting than a typical Hollywood romantic comedy.

Bollywood Meets Hollywood

Attractive people meet, fall in love, argue, and sometimes sing and dance
Attractive people meet, fall in love, argue, and sometimes sing and dance

Bollywood is the nickname of the Indian film industry, centered in Bombay (now called Mumbai). The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia describes Bollywood movies as “songs and dances, love triangles, comedy and dare-devil thrills — all are mixed up in a three hour long extravaganza with an intermission. Plots tend to be melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.”

Bride & Prejudice doesn’t have such epic ambitions, hewing closely to the romantic comedy formula. On the DVD’s commentary track, director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha, an Indian raised in England, frequently points out that her film is not a true Bollywood movie. She grew up with both Hollywood and Bollywood movies, and drew from both traditions in making Bride & Prejudice. This background seems appropriate for a movie that was filmed mostly in Britain, set mostly in India, with a mostly Indian cast speaking English.

East Meets West

Instead of the Bennets, Bride & Prejudice gives us the Bakshi family of Amritsar, and four attractive, marriageable daughters. Their lives are disrupted by Balraj (Naveen Andrews), a British Indian who’s come to town for a wedding. He brought along his wealthy American friend, William Darcy (Martin Henderson). At the wedding festivities, Darcy locks eyes with the lovely Lalita Bakshi (Aishwarya Rai), while Balraj notices her older sister Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar).

Balraj and Jaya hit it off easily, but Lalita and Darcy aren’t so sure about each other. Darcy is prejudiced against India. He’s not a bigot, but he does find himself confused by the foreign culture and frustrated by the standard of living. Lalita is very proud of her country and culture and reacts a little too defensively to Darcy’s attitudes. Into the mix come two other potential suitors for the sisters, the buffoonish Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra) from Los Angeles and scruffy English drifter Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) who takes a shine to younger sister Lakhi (Peeya Rai Choudhuri).

The first part of Bride & Prejudice entertainingly sets up the characters and their desires. The musical numbers are delightful and over-the-top in a way not often seen in American movies. The movie starts to lose momentum when it leaves India for London and then L.A. The plot contrivances become more obvious, the need to wrap up the loose ends becomes more urgent. Still, these complaints don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

DVD Extras

The DVD features a commentary track with Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges, who co-wrote the screenplay with her. The most interesting parts are when Chadha discusses her influences for particular scenes, which range from Bollywood to Mel Brooks.

Many of the rest of the special features try to give a look behind the scenes, but are really more focused on promoting the movie. A 10-minute making-of featurette, for instance, doesn’t add much new information, unless you haven’t seen the film.

The most enjoyable extra is four extended versions of songs. Chadha mentions on the commentary track that these extended versions were in the Indian theatrical release of the movie. The longer version of Marriage Song shows that the movie originally had a slightly different chronology.

Picture and Sound

The picture quality is excellent, showing off the riot of colors in the Indian musical sequences. The sound is also very good.

One omission stands out. On the commentary track, Chadha mentions that the theatrical release included English subtitles for the movie’s first musical number, which was sung in Punjabi. She further mentions that the lyrics are fun, playful and suggestive. No subtitles came up while watching the DVD. Turning on the English closed captioning unhelpfully gives the subtitle “(singing in Punjabi)”.