Monday, February 21, 2005

No "Bride" without "Pride"


directed by Gurinder Chadha
starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Anupam Kher, others, including a random appearance by Ashanti

If you’re one of those poor unfortunate souls who simply don’t grasp the logic behind having dramatic characters periodically burst into song or dance, then “Bride and Prejudice” is not for you. Bollywood aficionados and Janeites are also cautioned: the musical numbers here are sporadic and of varying quality, and while there’s plenty of social comedy, the lead romantic couple are no Lizzy and Darcy. The impossibly beautiful Aish Rai, taking on her first crossover role as independent-minded Lalita Bakshi, demonstrates a range of about three facial expressions—all of which appear to be directly borrowed from Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.” Martin Henderson, for his part, projects vacuity rather than arrogance as the uneasily smitten hotel-heir Will Darcy, whose cardinal sin proves to be not pride but, well, cluelessness.

Nonetheless, what Chadha brings to this uneven mix is the same infectious energy and sharp eye for cultural melange that characterized last year’s “Bend it Like Beckham.” Sure, some of the East-meets-West jokes border on parody rather than satire, and Lalita can sound a bit like someone pontificating in an after-school special on diversity when she’s railing at Darcy’s ugly Americanism. But the relocation of Austen’s world to modern-day Amritsar, India (with a brief stopover in London and my own sweet L.A.) is surprisingly smooth, and the tracking of P&P’s plot frequently very clever. Nitin Ganatra is a hoot as the Mr. Collins stand-in, Mr. Kholi, an insufferable expat and wannabe Hollywood player who’s returned to the motherland to find a nice “traditional” Indian wife. So is Nadira Babbar as the archetypal marriage-obsessed mother, even if her tactless transparency stretches the most willing suspension of disbelief.

For the rest, it’s best to surrender yourself to the delightfully mad, higgledy-piggledy universe of Chadha’s multicultural masala, which includes everything from a gospel choir on a beach to random shots of the Disney concert hall in Los Angeles to “Gilmore Girls” sweetie Alexis Bledel popping up as Darcy’s little sister. What keeps this mess going is the mischievous joy of making it, which permeates the entire movie. If you’re looking for high art, go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a good time and an affectionate tribute to two totally different (but equally beloved) cultural institutions, look no further. Check your critical convictions at the door, and you’re guaranteed to leave with your spirits lightened and a goofy grin on your face.

RATING: ** 1/2


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