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The Marrying Kind: Indian star Aishwarya Rai plays a daughter pressured by her parents to make a match.

Austen Powered

Gurinder Chadha follows 'Bend It Like Beckham' with a clever cross-cultural 'Bride & Prejudice'

By Richard von Busack

KIPLING WAS WRONG: the twain of East and West meet all the time in the local movie theaters. In the case of Bride & Prejudice, the famed Aishwarya Rai stars in an adaptation of one of the most-filmed of English novels. The newest film by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) shifts the scene to India, beginning in Amritsar—the opening shot is of the Sikh holy of holies, the Golden Temple. Chadha's Bollywood/Hollywood musical follows Lalita (Rai), the eldest of a quartet of daughters under heavy parental pressure to marry. The somewhat exasperating girl meets the somewhat condescending Will Darcy (Martin Henderson)—and keeps remeeting him, wherever expatriate Indians have set down roots.

Meanwhile, a charming but untrustworthy barrister named Wickham (Daniel Gillies) fascinates Lalita. Cleverly, Wickham is the backpacking Lonely Planet type compared to the corporate Anglo-American hotelier Darcy. Mr. Collins, the paroxysmal character in Austen's novel, is a Leisure-Suit-Larry of a California accountant named Mr. Kholi; the expert clown Nitin Ganatra brings Phil Silvers levels of self-satisfaction to the character.

The rhapsodic international quality is the best thing about Bride & Prejudice, from Darcy and Lalita dining with mariachis in Los Angeles to the riot of color on the polychrome city streets in India in dance sequences choreographed by Saroj Khan. One subplot unfolds in the Little Venice section of London; another takes place on a beach in Santa Monica, where a gospel choral piece turns up as unexpectedly as Count Basie and his orchestra did in Blazing Saddles, and for once it doesn't seem like a gratuitous theft of soulful music. The movie hinges on a torchlit rave in Goa, where the famous Ashanti performs what's called the "special" number, the guest-star routine in any Indian musical. Ashanti sings lyrics that are examples of the kind of hardscrabble rhyming that go on too often here: "India's the place for me/ India will set you free." Compared to that level of lyrics, something must be said in favor of the sequence that was supposed to be ridiculously old-fashioned: a cobra dance by Lalita's sister.

The celebrated Rai is as tantalizing as Raquel Welch was, with her heavy-lidded green eyes and impudent chin. Rai's international breakthrough will depend more on the director and less on Rai's reluctance to do the kissing scenes that Western movies depend upon, but which Bombay movies can't abide. That could be worked around. As Charles Laughton once said under different circumstances, "They can't censor the gleam in my eye."

Though Bend It Like Beckham is supposedly the biggest English-produced hit in history, the director has unimpeachable local connections. Her husband, Bride & Prejudice's scriptwriter Paul Mayeda Berges, was the former director of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and he's currently scouting Oakland locations for the film version of local author Chitra Divakaruni's novel The Mistress of Spices. (Click here for a full-length interview with Chadha.)


Bride & Prejudice (PG-13; 111 min.), directed by Gurinder Chadha, written by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, based on the novel by Jane Austen, photographed by Santosh Sivan and starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson and Daniel Gillies, opens Friday at selected theaters.


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From the February 9-15, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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