Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pride and Prejudice Bollywood Style: Part 1

I’ve recently had a crisis in my love and affection for Jane Austen, which was a result of a culmination of events that soured my adoration for Jane. Sadly, I have yet to regain my former delight derived from visiting Jane over a cup of tea and a plate of scones; and perhaps, my affection will never be what it once was, but I have been making small efforts to visit Jane in the hopes that our friendship will rebuild itself to its former state. That is why my blog post today is later than I had planned.

Jane, my dear friend, has the power to do many things. She can make us laugh, cry, scream in frustration and feel a level of satisfaction that can only be obtained from her writing. She is a splendid woman and so I decided what better way to visit Jane than through a film which I first enjoyed viewing with my sorority sisters, who are like family. It was a perfect and wonderful visit.

I recently dusted off my DVD of the Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice, of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. It has been some years since I watched this version and while I remembered some parts of the film there were those that I had forgotten. The first time I watched this film I was in undergraduate school and a group of my Sorority sisters and I circled ourselves around the television in the living room of our Sorority house and sat back with popcorn and enjoyed ourselves.

First off, this film is a colorful painting which delights the senses. Unlike many Western films which are filled with soft, romantic, subdued tones or extremely dark sets, depending on the type of film, Bollywood does not shy away from color. I remember this was one of the first things that I personally loved.

Secondly, this film is also a musical. Many of the songs I liked, but some were not so great. I love musicals so this was another bonus to me. The music is a blend of western and eastern cultures and even the songs I did not enjoy very much were enjoyable to listen to. So, if you don’t like musicals this film may not be for you. Enjoy this clip of the song Marriage into town which is a favorite of mine in the film.

Look for one of my laugh-out-loud moments at part 3:48 of the clip.

Lastly, while set in a more modern setting the many constraints of the Regency time period are reflected in the Indian culture as displayed in the film. Although, there are some modern social customs which do counteract the Regency customs in this film, which is to be expected. You will never see any couple kiss in this film. As I understand it Bollywood films never show a man and a woman kiss. I also don’t recollect any handholding by couples either, but I could have blinked and missed it.

There are some twists to Austen’s original novel in this film. The Bingley’s are a rich family in London and Darcy is an American who is the heir to a hotel empire. His mother is Lady Catherine. Oh the horror! But a delightful twist which contrives to present the constraints and family honor which Darcy must uphold. Surprisingly it works well.

Balraj (Charles), Darcy and Kiran (Caroline) are in a small Indian village for a wedding which Balraj is in. And so begins the tale of Pride and Prejudice Bollywood style.

Mrs. Bennet (Mrs. Bakshi in this version) is not as annoying as portrayed in other film versions. I found myself empathizing with her situation of having five unmarried daughters whom she needs to see married advantageously. She still comments on Mr. Bingley being rich when at the ball, but not so loudly as to censure her. In fact, the first time she meet’s Mr. Wickham she has him pegged as a no-good-philanderer. How is that for a twist? Unlike the novel she does not wear rose colored glasses where Wickham is concerned. This portrayal of Mrs. Bennet was one of the best I have seen if you find yourself unhappy with her initial portrayal in other films or even the novel. In other words her character is softened in this film.

Caroline Bingley (Kiran in this version) is softened as well. I actually found myself liking Caroline. She isn’t constantly throwing herself at Darcy and in all actuality it is as if she has no interest in Darcy romantically at all. She is still a pretentious snob, but she is a pretentious snob you can like most of the time. Damn! There goes the Caroline Bingley that you love to hate. She isn’t really a villain in this film and even when she tries to warn Elizabeth (Lalita in the film) about Wickham her intentions are good. She still contrives to separate her brother from Jane (Jaya in the film) which one cannot like, but even when she is being terrible in her actions, she still has redeemed herself in other junctures.

Lalita, played by the lovely Aishwarya Rai, is our Elizabeth Bennet in this film adaptation. When she and Darcy meet it is a clash of cultures which creates the pride and prejudice between them. She believes Darcy looks down on her because she lives in India and the town she lives in is a poor Indian village. Darcy does not help matters in his attempts to argue his point and only further portrays his arrogance to Lalita. In this film making Darcy an American, instead of British, works because as we all know American’s are arrogant and pretentious and think they are better than everyone else.

Our first glimpse of Wickham in this film is on a dark moonlit night coming up out of the ocean like Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell. It is a laugh-out-loud moment because---surprise---here’s Wickham coming out of the ocean. Later, Wickham and Elizabeth are walking along the beach and Ashanti is singing in the background like she is some sort of well known Indian pop singer. I could accept Wickham coming out of the ocean, but I have a major problem with Ashanti’s brief role. Ashanti’s performance is contrived and it deflects from the actual story line as the performance is only manufactured to introduce Wickham. There were plenty of better ways which the producers could have introduced Wickham.

Wickham is a wander. He backpacks around the world begging for scraps or shelter it is presumed. Later, when we meet Wickham in London we find out he lives on a riverboat. This adds a whole new meaning to the term river rat. I felt it was a fitting, modern day, portrayal of Wickham. Wickham can still be hated in this film and he does attempt to run off with Lucky (Lydia in this film). Wickham remains a villain which is just as it should be.

My favorite moment in this film, which I think many Austen fans will agree is long awaited, if the fist fight between Darcy and Wickham. Darcy and Elizabeth run through London trying to find the wayward Lydia and Wickham. They find them and are given chase into a dark movie theater which happens to be showing an Indian film. Darcy and Wickham have their fist fight in conjunction with the film on screen and movie goers are to assume the fist fight is part of the fight on screen. Darcy wins the fight. YES! Elizabeth get’s to slap Wickham and so does Lydia. How satisfying!

Click here to the see the fight scene video on youtube. I cannot embed it here. Thanks to narniamum for helping me get this clip. You rock!
Let us not forget odious Mr. Collins (Mr. Kohli in this film). He is a rich accountant who lives in California. He brags about his wealth and is perhaps one of the most odious portrayals of Mr. Collins I have seen, but the comedy that is projected by his role is fantastic. The best moment, a laugh-out-loud-I-am-in-shock-moment, is when we see Mr. Collins in an American flag Speedo on a round bed. See clip below.

My one major gripe may be the ending we have for Darcy and Elizabeth. We as viewers feel cheated. We get to see Darcy beating on a large drum like some sort of he-man come to take Elizabeth back to his man cave by throwing her over his shoulder. It feels like the writers or producers ran out of ideas or just didn’t feel like making the effort. It was like Bingley and Jane are getting married—wonderful---oh yeah we still have to address Darcy and Elizabeth---what to do? Light bulb---we will have Darcy beat on a drum and Elizabeth come to him and he will fold her in an embrace---and CUT! Not a very satisfactory ending.

What do I really think of Bride and Prejudice? I think it is an often overlooked adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Bollywood has done other modern adaptations of Jane Austen which I have yet to see, but I enjoyed this Bollywood offering. It has some corny, laugh-out-loud or oh-my-word-what-where-they-thinking moments, such as a black gospel choir singing on the beach in one of the musical numbers, Wickham rising up out of the ocean, men walking around with their shirts open like its normal, Mr. Collins in an American flag Speedo or Darcy beating on a big drum in the end, to name a few. I leave it up to you my dear readers to decide which of those listed I thought were corny, laugh-out-loud or oh-my-word-what-where-they-thinking.

Despite my gripes with this film I think the story as Austen wrote it stays much the same. The themes Austen wrote about are universal and ever present and this is a wonderful addition to Austen in Film. I recommend this film as a lighthearted modern alternative to the more traditional British film versions of Pride and Prejudice (I am a 1995 P&P aficionado). It for the most part follows the storyline set forth by Austen, which only deviates slightly on occasion in this film. The music is also fun.

I delighted in my visit with Jane and will come to visit again soon.

Hope you enjoyed my look at the film Bride and Prejudice. What are your thoughts and opinions?

Note: I am thinking of making this blog post a 2 part series. Part 1 was a general look at the film Bride and Prejudice. In Part 2, I will be looking at the portrayal of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship in relation to the novel.

Aishwarya Rai can sing and act. She sings the musical number Take me to Love. The version in the first part of the movie is beautiful. There is a second version later in the film which débuts that ridiculous black gospel choir in blue choir robes randomly singing on the beach is one of those moments in film where you wonder just what the heck they were thinking----then you laugh out loud since it is so ridiculous. I cannot in good faith recommend the song version of this sound in conjunction with the film. If you have seen this film perhaps you hold a different opinion. I just remember my Sorority sisters and I bursting forth in rambunctious laughter at the gospel choir.


Ana said...

Hey Kaydee, excellent review! As to the drum-beating Darcy, I think it was a way to show us (and Lalita) that he had learned to accept Indian culture, which he had previsouly - and, as you point out - arrogantly criticized. At least that's how I see it!

Rebecca (RivkaBelle) said...

Ohmigosh, the gospel choir, haha...First time I saw this (also undergrad, but alone), I was like "um, what?" Pretty sure I laughed out loud, and freaked out the cat, hehe ;o)

I like this version of my beloved P&P. It's different, but I think sometimes we need a little difference to let us reacquaint with the 'real' story. Plus, Darcy is hott. (And, when not acting as an American, has a really suh-weet accent, haha) I shared it with my parents, who are great sports when I find new Austen movies I *must* share - but they didn't like it. At all. Ah well... I may have to revisit it soon meself now :o)

memo_pie said...

In an interview with the Director. She said the Ashanti performance was a nod to the Bollywood film industry. Where in all Bollywood films they have that one song that has nothing to do with the story/plot line. They generally bring in a well known singer and have a performance aside from the rest of the film. As this was a British Director - this was what she came up with.
Plus we still got the double wedding.

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