Do you love films based on Jane Austen’s work or life, well, then you’ll love our theme this month. Grab your popcorn and a soda! It’s time for Movies in May!
A modern Bollywood adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” becomes a delightful tribute to both India and Regency England…
Bollywood is the name given to the center of Hindi language Indian films and the name is a play on words between Hollywood and Bombay (the former name of Mumbai). The original center of Hindi films was in Tollygunge, and the name “Tollywood” was a natural development of the name. When that film center moved to Bombay, the name naturally changed to Bollywood. The term is often used to describe all of the Indian film industry, but is really only correctly used for the Mumbai film industry.
Bollywood films are the product of several Indian theater traditions, and the films tend to be rather formulaic. The stories are generally uplifting and the films invariably include music and dancing, and so would fall under the Western idea of “musicals,” but there have also been some films which show important social issues. Although many Westerners are barely aware of the Indian film industry, the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, both in number of films produced and in number of audience members who go to see them.
Unlike the typical Bollywood films, Bride and Prejudice was filmed in English and included both American and English actors in some of the key roles, as well as a large cast of Indian actors. Both Darcy and Wickham are Americans and played by American actors (Martin Henderson and Daniel Gillies, respectively), but the English parts are played by actors who ethnically Indian or part Indian, but were born and raised in England (Naveen Andrews, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role on “Lost,” and Indira Varma, who has played Ellaria Sand on Game of Thrones since 2014). Most of the remaining roles are Indian actors, including Aishwarya Rai as Lalita Bakshi (Lizzy Bennet), who is one of the most famous (and beautiful) Bollywood actresses worldwide. The music in the film is in Hindi or Bengali, but all of the dialogue is in English.
The plot of Bride and Prejudice strongly parallels that of Jane Austen’s story (except the number of “Bennet” daughters has been decreased from five to four!). The character’s generally have names that start with the same letter as those of Jane Austen’s classic, although Elizabeth Bennet becomes Lalita Bakshi, more similar to “Lizzy Bennet.”
The story starts in modern Amritsar, India, a relatively small and rural city where William (Will) Darcy, an American hotelier, travels with his close friend Mr. Balraj (Bingley), an English barrister, and his sister Kiran (Caroline) for the wedding of one of Bingley’s friends, in which Balraj is the best man. While there they meet the Bakshi family which consists of two beautiful and intelligent eldest daughters, a younger daughter, Maya, that has a small, but important part in the story, and a wild youngest daughter, Lakhi.
Mr. Darcy immediately offends Lalita with his lack of understanding of Indian culture and his disdain for the city and its third world amenities, in spite of the fact that they are staying at the finest hotel in Amritsar. Lolita is a feisty, outspoken woman who helps her father with his business and does not tolerate Darcy’s comments about India. She is much more outspoken than Elizabeth Bennet, whose sparring with Darcy covers Indian culture and traditions, women’s lib, and education. Miss Balraj fuels the flames by disparaging Lalita’s book reading and telling her about Darcy’s requirements in a wife (from a drunken rant when they were all in college together).
When Balraj invites Jaya (Jane) to travel with them to Goa, a seaside resort Darcy is considering buying, Lalita goes along at her parents’ request as chaperone for her sister. There, on the beach, she meets Johnny Wickham, the son of Darcy’s former nanny, who makes friends with her and tells her many tales of Darcy’s faults.
After they return to Amritsar Darcy convinces Balraj that Jaya does not really care about him and, not long after, Wickham arrives. At that point, Darcy, Balraj and Kiran return home.
The story progresses as you would expect from Austen’s story, with an embarrassing mother who is trying to set one of her daughters up with Mr. Kholi, an Americanized relative of the family who has returned to India to find a bride. Like Mr. Collins, he is dorky and spends all his time bragging about his life in California and how desirable a place it would be for a bride. When Lalita spurns him, her best friend Chandra marries him, inviting the Bakshis to travel to California for their American wedding as Kholi’s guests.
The Bakshis stop over in London to visit friends when going out and coming back from California, and on the trip back Lakhi runs off with Wickham. During the travels Lalita has gotten a somewhat better view of Darcy when he gives her mother his first class seat for the long flight to California so he can sit next to Lalita, and she then spends a great deal of time with him in L.A. Unfortunately, while in L.A. For the wedding, Darcy’s younger sister, Georgina, tells Lalita how Darcy broke up Balraj’s matrimonial aspirations with a young woman who was unsuitable. Lalita tells Darcy what she thinks of him and the Bakshis sadly leave for home.
Not surprisingly, Darcy helps find Lakhi and shows that he has learned some lessons in the meantime, and a happy ending ensues.
In between these plot twists, predictable to Jane Austen’s fans, there are multiple music and dance sequences which are based on traditional Indian dances. They are all group dances with very specific moves, generally with the dancers in concentric circles (rather than the two lines of English Country Dances). The music is spirited, and most of the dances show views from above so that viewers can appreciate the bright colors and patterns forms by the dancers. A cameo by a well-known singer is also traditional in Bollywood films, and a performance by Ashanti in Goa, on the beach, fits this tradition. Maya Bakshi (Mary Bennet), who has a relatively small part in the movie, provides the requisite (and exquisitely) embarrassing performance in front of the guests by doing “The Cobra Dance” at the Bakshi home in Amritsar during the first part of the film, and finishes what Mrs. Bakshi has started as far as scaring off the American and English guests.
In summary, Bride and Prejudice is an enjoyable romp for any fan of Jane Austen and I highly recommend it, especially if you want to see Darcy and Lizzy riding elephants!