curiouser and curiouser

Bride and Prejudice

1) Bride and Prejudice is a film that seems to have no illusions about either the story it is presenting or the means of presentation – Gurinder Chadha is aware that Jane Austen’s story is a well-known classic, aware that Bollywood has come to represent a stereotype of cheesy plots and showy musical scenes, and especially aware that the idea of presenting a well-known classic in Bollywood style must, by its very nature, invite prejudice and derision.  But it is this awareness that makes the movie work.  Yes, groups of colorfully-clad Indian actors are breaking into spontaneous yet carefully choreographed song-and-dance numbers, but somehow and somewhere amidst this cinematic sugar there is an actual story that translates very well from Austen’s England to modern India, England and America – the story is not lost, nor are the themes of love versus marriage, class struggle, familial duty and, of course, pride and prejudice.  Names and places have changed, as well as certain details such as Wickham not marrying Elizabeth/Lalita’s younger sister after all, but the fact that so many nuances of the original story are so deftly inserted into an entirely different landscape is a testament not only to the timelessness and universal relevance of Austen’s novel but to Chadha’s willingness to blend the classic with the cheesy and remain true to the Bollywood style rather than ignoring the roots of Indian cinema in an attempt to produce a more highbrow, critically pleasing adaptation.  The film is a spectacle and the actresses are perfectly made up into visions of singular beauty, but this focus on the visual serves to remind us that we know the story already, that Austen’s plot was never terribly complex to begin with, and that whether it is Mrs. Bennett embarassing herself by speaking too brashly at a party or Mrs. Bakshi embarassing herself by singing in the middle of a musical repartee between young men and women, the story is neither diluted nor degraded, simply done up Bollywood-style for a modern audience.

2) Pride and Prejudice is a classic that continues to satisfy because there is sufficient conflict to keep the story interesting but not so much that the main characters miss their happy ending.  Austen is a careful navigator throughout, steering her characters close to tragedy and through their respective flaws to end up on the other side of miscommunication and misunderstanding, a happy place called Resolution and Learning a Lesson.  On the surface, this is an easy read and a neat ending, a high school English staple that has been adapted multiple times by English production companies whose basic aim seems to be perfect replication – past high school and the BBC, however, there are certain themes and character details that make this novel much more significant in terms of breaking through the expectations and established mores of society.  Elizabeth Bennett is outspoken and intelligent, a champion of love and individuality who nevertheless falls prey to her own stubbornness and a certain narrow perspective framed by first impressions.  Translating her character to film requires an actress expressive and versatile enough to portray a young woman who spends the bulk of the story unaware of the personal flaw that is keeping her from ultimate happiness, and in Bride and Prejudice this task is undertaken not only by Aishwarya Rai but by the supporting chorus that adds an element of theatricality to better emphasize Elizabeth/Lalita’s plight.  Rai’s role is definitely less subtle and less of a faithful adaptation than Jennifer Ehle’s excellent portrayal in the television miniseries, but Austen’s character is such that Elizabeth can be interpreted in multiple ways without losing the forward thinking that makes her so remarkable.

3) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bride-and-Prejudice/109731925712592?sk=wiki  Combined Facebook and wiki page for the film

http://www.much-ado.net/austenbook/  Facebook newsfeed for the novel

http://www.desiclub.com/bollywood/bollywood_features/bolly_article.cfm?id=229  Interview with Gurinder Chadha

The third link was the most informational and introspective to me, as it is not quite a review for the film but rather a primary source for the conception and production.  I would much rather read the actual director’s thoughts than the personal opinions of a self-styled film buff, which is probably a good thing because I found so many negative reviews while searching for relevant pages.  Film reviews can be helpful in clarifying a detail that might have been missed or raising certain questions about the director’s message, but when the review is so firmly negative or positive I think that it leaves less room for your own interpretation – I have actually decided against seeing movies that I was previously excited about just because of one particularly bad review, and I have also had doubts about my opinions after viewing a film and then reading someone else’s take on the story, the acting, or the production values.

4) What do you think is the most important element that the director Gurinder Chadha carries over from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to her film version, Bride and Prejudice? What is the most important element that is not carried over? What is the import of these acts of commission and omission?

I think the most important element that Gurinder Chadha carries over from Jane Austen’s novel is the sense of marriage as a duty to one’s family, the idea that who you marry is a reflection of your family and that you can either bring honor or shame to your entire household depending on whose proposal you accept.  The most important element that is not carried over is the stricter societal limitations that only loosely translate from Austen’s England to modern-day India.  There is a sense in the film that Indian culture is stricter than American or even British culture in terms of a woman’s place, but the novel’s subtlety is lost – a young woman can no longer embarass herself by playing the piano with perhaps too much zeal than befits her more modest talent, and instead she dresses in all green and dances like a very enthusiastic cobra.  The Bakshi daughters must still ask their parent’s permission to go to Goa, but once they are there, Lalita is free to play guitar on the beach and wear a bikini if she wants to.  This omission of strict propriety and major faux pas achieved by minor acts is necessary for a more realistic (if that word can be applied to Bollywood) adaptation from Jane Austen to modern day.  Duty to one’s family and the consequent theme of marriage as duty is more important to keep in tact from the novel to the film, as it is the inspiration for the events that unfold.

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Comments on: "Bride and Prejudice" (1)

  1. Great job. The Facebook feed is particularly fascinating. Hadn’t seen that one. 10/10.

    Joseph Byrne

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