Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Bride and Prejudice

(UK/USA, 2004)

Wow! Uh … gee! You’ve probably heard of “Bollywood,” the term for the Indian film industry based in Bombay (Mumbai). They make more films in India in a week than Hollywood makes in a year. My understanding is that most of them are very cheap and very formula, and don’t travel well. Here in the west we seldom see them. But there are also big-budget musical extravaganzas, which are catching on in England and a few other places. Some are made in both Hindi and English versions. This one was clearly made for the international audience by Gurinder Chadha, who made the delightful Bend It Like Beckham. She’s a frankly commercial director, with no deep aspirations, though both these films explore cultural differences and clashes. B&P is loosely based on the Jane Austen novel, and it’s a musical. It stars the incredibly beautiful Aishwarya Rai, apparently the superstar of Bollywood.
I love musicals, and this one had me at the start. It is a riot of color, dancing, wonderful rhythms and music that is a blend of east and west. So who cares if the plot is obvious and clichéd?
Well, that’s the problem. When the music stops, the plot plods. There were a lot of musical numbers up front, and not many at the end. To push a musical forward without letting the audience worry about how dumb it all is you have to dazzle them with song and dance every ten minutes or less, and Chadha forgets this. When they get on the plane and leave for London and Los Angeles, the movie pretty much loses it. But before that, it was as colorful and inventive as anything I’ve seen since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
By the way … You may not notice it at first, but there is no kissing in Bollywood. There are long, soulful stares, some chaste embraces, and several times they seem ready to kiss … but they don’t. Indian movies are amazingly prudish, considering this is the civilization that wrote the Kama Sutra, and that Hindu gods do things that would gag a maggot. I don’t know why this is, but it is.