If you want a fun night out, and like a bit of Bollywood singing and dancing, then this is the film for you. The director of Bend it Like Beckham transports Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to present day Amritsar, India.
The meddlesome mother, Mrs Bakshi, is obsessed with arranging marriages for her four rather unfortunate daughters. The film follows the fortunes of these women. Chadha remains true to Austen’s original exploration of the horrendous way in which traditions often deem women to be worthless if they are unmarried and not wealthy. Chadha’s film, like Austen’s book, pokes fun at how the intelligence of women can be undermined and judged to be unimportant by ‘high flyers’ in traditional society.
The film is brimming with colour and song, moving from India to the US and Britain, and then back to India again – bringing together an international cast and many cultural influences.
However, it’s a rather weak ‘crossover’ film – the song lyrics (sung in English) are poor and sickly sweet, while the choreography could be far more impressive. The Bollywood elements that Gurinder Chadha tries to fuse with ‘western’ influences are therefore weak to start with – it’s not the fusion idea that’s at fault, but the raw materials. Austen’s original wit, however, is far more successfully translated into Chadha’s story. The film sparkles with some very entertaining conversations (and slanging matches!), as well as the kind of blind optimism that makes you smile in spite of your better judgement.
Chadha’s equivalent of Lizzie Bennet is often interesting. Lalita, a young Indian woman, baffles her mother with her intelligence, and thwarts her attempts to marry her off to some ‘nice but dim’ man who happen to be very rich. Lalita sticks to her guns. She wants more than money – she wants someone who understands her intellectually and doesn’t require her to stay in the kitchen. Her initial meeting with Will Darcy, an American businessman, is disastrous because she finds his snobbery and consumerism disgusting.
When she challenges the way that rich businessmen such as Darcy are taking over India, and criticises his quasi-imperialist outlook, he says, ‘I’m not British, you know,’ while she answers, ‘Exactly’ – indicating in one word her belief that imperialism is alive and well in the 20th century, but that the US is now the biggest empire builder.
If you want a truly intelligent film that brings together Bollywood, anti-imperialism and the influences from European cinema, watch Lagaan instead – it’s much deeper and a better quality film all round. Chadha’s effort is full of good intentions, but at the end of the day they form a messy patchwork of a film. It is funny, though, and I would especially recommend viewers to watch out for Kholi, the ‘nice but dim’ suitor who is one of the most hilarious characters I’ve seen on screen. He alone is a good reason to watch this film.
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