Now here's when high concept actually makes sense. Want to tap into Pride and Prejudice's well of insight about marriages of convenience, but worried about the book's outdated portrayal of single women's ruts? Set it in modern-day India, arranged couples are still the order of the day.
And while you're at it, why not plug in some Bollywood musical numbers? It's not like Jane Austen's going to be calling any lawyers.
Naveen Andrews) and his American pal Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) roll into town, and with seemingly good reason. Balraj's quick courtship of eldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) is the model of a civil and financially equitable Indian romance. Sharp-witted sister Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is a bit more standoffish, though, especially when it comes to the culturally clueless Darcy. Love for Lalita, arranged or otherwise, must endure shady suitors and a host of misunderstandings to reach fruition.
And singing. A lot of singing. For a movie whose obvious aim is to be Bollywood's herald in America, the dance productions are a little uneven. The costumes are great, and the choreography has a certain goofy appeal, but outside of Indian cinema buffs, it's not going to erase any memories of Chicago. Add to this the pointless presence of urban popster Ashanti, and you have a wannabe crossover that's a little too eager to please its American audience.
Too bad, because the cast is more than game. Hopefully, the beautiful Aishwarya Rai will be taken seriously someday, just not in this movie. Her indignant pouts and bright eyes outshine Henderson's Darcy, who gets to do surprisingly little. Over the top, but hanging on by his fingernails, is Nitin Ganatra as Mr. Kholi, the smarmiest of Lalita's suitors. In the book, he's a clergyman, which makes it all the more fun to see him presented here as an L.A. mogul. He leers at the Bakshi sisters through a mouthful of curry while complaining about the 'stuck-up' girls of America, providing more cultural commentary in one tossed-off joke than the passive-aggressive Darcy does in the whole movie.
Largely, though, Bride and Prejudice just isn't concerned with that sort of thing. Director Gurinder Chadha mostly just wants to coast on the feel-good movie vibe he tied down with Bend It Like Beckham. This movie is not likely to harm that reputation, but it won't do much to advance it, either. Why he'd piggyback his romantic fluff onto a classic like Austen's is a mystery, but at least it's not likely to offend anyone from this century. Call it a little payback for the English occupation of India?
'Bride and Prejudice'
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