Bride and Prejudice

Who is Aishwarya Rai? The sad thing is, most Americans have no idea. Rai is the reigning queen of Bollywood, former model, and considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Bollywood produces films that easily reach over one billion people, so it's odd thinking that such a famous person would be a virtual non-entity in America (well, probably because most people have no desire to read subtitles). However, this is why people like Jet Li, Monica Bellucci, Jackie Chan, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and many other still needed to "debut" in America years after they achieved fame in their home countries (and in some cases, worldwide). This is also why others like Andy Lau and Ricardo Darin are relegated to art houses, despite the fact that they are fantastic actors. But enough about that - Rai makes her American debut in Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel. This is the umpteenth adaptation of Austen (heck, there was a Mormon Pride and Prejudice last year).

As things go, the story makes an easy transition from England to today's melting pot. And shepherding the story is adapter/director Gurinder Chadha, an ideal candidate for the role. She is of Indian descent but grew up in England, and frequently deals with cross-cultural issues in films like Bend It Like Beckham and What's Cooking? Bride and Prejudice takes place today, and takes place primarily in Amritsar, India, with short interludes in London and Los Angeles. Chadha, who adapted Austen with Paul Mayeda Berges (Bend It Like Beckham, What's Cooking?) keeps the Bollywood staples of song and dance numbers and wonderfully vivid and colorful costumes. As great as it looks, one wishes that it could have been a better introduction for Rai.

The man element that drags the film down is the quality the leading man. William Darcy is Martin Henderson (Torque, The Ring), a good-looking but anonymous leading man. He has a relatively slim resume, and has been pretty forgettable in everything he's done thus far. Here, he is a dull wallflower. Aside from looking handsome, he has nothing going for him. Matching him against Rai was idiotic, because she charms him right off the screen. Rai (Devdas, Heart of Gold), as Lalita Bakshi, is easily in her element, charming, intelligent, and supernaturally attractive. William makes a fool out of himself in their initial meeting, accidentally insulting Lalita and India with his ignorant American views. She takes an instant dislike of him, which isn't good as he keeps reappearing.

The main reason for this is that her eldest sister Jaya (another ex-beauty queen, Namrata Shirodkar, Tehzeeb, Maseeha) is seeing William's friend Balraj (Naveen Andrews, Easy, Rollerball). Jaya and Lalita's mother (Nadira Babbar) is busy trying to marry off her four daughters, and comes up with some alternatives for Lalita including William's nemesis Wickham (Daniel Gillies, Spider-Man 2, Various Positions) and the goofy Kholi (Nitin Chandra Ganatra, Inferno, The Love Doctor). As the Bakshi women come closer to marriage (all without a single kiss on the lips - a Bollywood no-no), Lalita and William slowly overcome their misconceptions of each other and fall in love. Nothing here is really deep; it's all fun and superficial. To this end, Bride and Prejudice is a fun if not slight ride. The best part is that it exposes people to the sheer joy of Bollywood filmmaking, and introduces Americans to Rai.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 55 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

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