Movie Review: Bride and Prejudice (2004)

BrideAndPrejudice2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

I first saw director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice in the theater, not long before I started watching Hindi films in earnest. Though the film is still cute, a second viewing feels like a step into a Bollywood uncanny valley.

As hinted at by the title, the movie is Chadha’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The action is relocated to Amritsar, where the story focuses on the Bakshi family and their four single daughters.

Eldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) catches the eye of wealthy London NRI Balraj (Naveen Andrews), who is accompanied on his visit to India by his sister Kiran (Indira Varma) and friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson). Darcy takes a shine to Jaya’s beautiful sister, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), but the two get off to a rocky start.

Both potential romances veer off course upon the arrival of two other suitors: a rich NRI from L.A., Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), and Darcy’s nemesis, Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies).

Despite the trappings of a stereotypical Bollywood movie — colorful wedding sets and big dance numbers — Bride and Prejudice has more in common structurally with Broadway musicals. In a typical Hindi film, the songs that accompany dance numbers are intended to be sold as soundtrack singles, so their lyrics are more about mood and general feelings than the literal expressions of one’s thoughts.

By contrast, the song lyrics in Bride and Prejudice are the characters’ internal and external monologues set to music, and dance numbers arise from that. For example, the lyrics to the song that Lalita and her friends sing while shopping for last-minute wedding items refer specifically to the woman getting married and to the festivities taking place in Amritsar.

The effect is weird. Perhaps Chadha would have been better served to start Bride and Prejudice onstage before filming it. A theatrical run would have forced the story to define itself as musical theater rather than a confused Bollywood hybrid. Also, it would have given the composers time to craft better music. Most of the songs in Bride and Prejudice are awful, especially “No Life Without Wife.”

The highlight of revisiting the film is spotting all of the stars who would later establish themselves in other roles. The film released during the first season of Lost, in which Andrews starred. Gillies would make his mark as Elijah in the TV series The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals. Varma — who looks amazing in the movie — presently plays the dangerous Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones.

As the biggest star and leading character in Bride and Prejudice, Rai Bachchan leaves something to be desired. Her dialogue delivery is stilted, and her angry outbursts are tepid. She and Henderson lack chemistry.

Her performance — along with all the others in the film — is overshadowed by Ganatra’s comic turn as the tacky braggart Kholi. He is so desperate to share his American dream that he insults the very women he’s trying to woo. His pathetic and annoying acts are balanced by his sincerity, so his shtick never gets tired.

The presence of Kholi, Darcy, and Balraj in India raises questions about the assumptions outsiders — NRIs included — make about Indians, particularly Indian women. It’s a fascinating topic, but the way it’s dealt with is so on the nose that it feels like the characters are checking items off a list of stereotypes.

For all its shortcomings, Bride and Prejudice is certainly interesting and ambitious. Some adjustments to the story structure and soundtrack might have given it more lasting appeal.

Links

Bollywood Box Office: August 28-30

Phantom turned in a fine opening weekend in North America. From August 28-30, 2015, it earned $260,712 from 107 theaters ($2,437 average). It opened in the eleventh highest number of theaters for a Bollywood film this year and earned the twelfth largest opening weekend gross, so there you go.

Other Hindi films still showing in North American theaters:

  • Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Week 7; $27,399 from 19 theaters; $1,442 average; $8,069,305 total
  • All Is Well: Week 2; $13,392 from 25 theaters; $536 average; $124,567 total
  • Brothers: Week 3; $11,442 from 18 theaters; $636 average; $662,749 total
  • Drishyam: Week 5; $10,672 from eight theaters; $1,334 average; $726,706 total
  • Baahubali (Hindi-dubbed): Week 6; $6,434 from six theaters; $1,072 average; $583,354 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Phantom (2015)

Phantom2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Phantom is a revenge fantasy inspired by the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. As political wish-fulfillment, the movie is entertaining enough, but it isn’t truly satisfying.

Phantom opens with a short primer on the attacks that includes harrowing actual news footage. Then the film’s hero, “Jude” (Saif Ali Khan), makes his entrance in unheroic fashion. He engages in a road rage car chase through Chicago that ends in him punching a man who falls to his death in the Chicago River.

“Jude” is an alias of Daniyal Khan, a dishonorably discharged Indian Army officer on a secret mission to assassinate the four masterminds of the 26/11 attacks. His mission first takes him to London, where he meets his contact, Nawaz (Katrina Kaif).

Nawaz has a complicated job description. She works for the not-so-subtly-named US military contractor Dark Water, coordinating security for refugee camps run by Medicine International, who she may also work for.

Daniyal kills the man Nawaz is hired to identify — a high-ranking terrorist trainer — and she is furious for being dragged into his deadly scheme. Still, when she gets a coded phone call from Daniyal, she agrees to help him in his next mission: exterminate David Coleman Headley in jail in Chicago.

While Daniyal receives off-the-record assistance from India’s intelligence agency, their counterparts in Pakistan conclude that the deaths of such prominent terrorists are connected. The Pakistani agents try to identify the man responsible, but Daniyal is always one step ahead of them.

Phantom has an apt tagline: “A story you wish were true.” The notion of one man, freed from political constraints, taking out not one, but four of the most wanted terrorists in the world is immensely appealing. Getting to join him for the ride — with all its accompanying car chases, fist fights, and espionage — makes it even better.

Still, there’s a nagging feeling throughout the film: it couldn’t happen like this. It took ten years and a whole team of US special forces soldiers to kill Osama Bin Laden. One guy with no advanced military training taking out four terrorists in the span of a few months?

It all comes too easy for Daniyal. His most perilous moments consist of him bobbling something in his hand and being delayed by a stalled auto-rickshaw. There’s no one on the ground tracking him; the Pakistani agents gather their information on him remotely. As a result, the movie lacks tension.

Director Kabir Khan wisely resists forcing a love story into the narrative. Daniyal has bigger fish to fry, and Nawaz is rightfully wary of him. Focusing on the two leads as professionals, not lovers, also frees Khan and Kaif to give grounded performances.

One other performance needs special acknowledgement. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who plays the Indian intelligence officer who masterminds the mission, deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for persevering in the face of nonsense. This time, he’s forced to give a corny speech, urging Indian naval officers to pluck up their courage and buck orders for the sake of this one man — this one man! — who was willing to risk his life for India.

Ayyub’s speech is part of a third act that is cheesier than the rest of the film. Fortunately, Director Khan ends Phantom on a contemplative note that befits the seriousness of the events that inspired it. We can wish for an easy path to justice, but we can never take it lightly.

Links

Opening August 28: Phantom

The Bollywood terrorism thriller Phantom — starring Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif — opens in Chicago area theaters on August 28, 2015.

Phantom opens on Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 28 min.

All Is Well carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters.

The rest of the South Barrington 30’s weekend Hindi lineup includes Brothers, Drishyam, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and the dubbed version of Baahubali.

Also opening in limited release on Friday is Learning to Drive, starring Ben Kingsley as a Sikh driving instructor who helps Patricia Clarkson find her independence following the breakup of her marriage. Learning to Drive opens at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, and the Century 12 Evanston/Cinearts 6 in Evanston on Friday, before expanding into suburban theaters in the coming weeks.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include:

Streaming Video News: August 26, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two new additions to the catalog that are sure to delight Shahrukh Khan fans. The classic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is now available for streaming, as is 1997’s Pardes.

For everything else new to Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Thoughts on Baahubali

I write about Hindi-language movies almost exclusively at this site, but I have to make an exception for Baahubali: The Beginning. The Telugu-Tamil fantasy film became such a huge success internationally — with collections in North America alone well above $8 million — that producers commissioned a special edition of the film for international audiences. Editor Vincent Tabaillon is tasked with trimming the nearly three-hour epic for screening at festivals and shopping to distributors. I’m hopeful that the new edition will get a run in the US, even after we already got the original version. Baahubali is a movie that needs to be seen by as many people as possible.

I adore Baahubali. The world created by SS Rajamouli is so vast and colorful that it feels like a video game mashup. Its hero, Shivudu, is a superpowered version of Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, but with beefier arms and no guns. Shivudu leaves his jungle home by climbing a massive waterfall, and then finding snowy fields that border an ancient metropolis, giving the feeling of progressing through the levels of a Japanese role playing game (e.g., Xenoblade Chronicles).

And if gorgeous settings, political intrigue, and epic battles aren’t incentive enough, stars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, and Tamannaah Bhatia are all fabulous looking.

When considering the film’s re-edit, the most obvious material for Tabaillon to excise are battles and musical numbers. As cool as the giant battle in the second half of the film is, it goes on for a really long time. It’s possible to maintain a sense of the battle’s scale while trimming it rather significantly. As for the music, I’d personally prefer to see as much of it retained as possible, since the soundtrack is incredible — especially “Dhirava“.

Assuming that the goal of the Baahubali re-edit is to reach new fans who don’t otherwise watch Indian films, there are a couple of issues that could surprise or offend Western audiences, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to be satisfactorily addressed in the editing process. First is Shivudu’s “courtship” of Avanthika. Rather than just talk to her, he sneaks up on her twice and tattoos her. Not only is it creepy, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate that his actions endanger her and threaten her standing among her people. And, no, this isn’t just a case of American political correctness imposing itself on another culture. Indian critic Anna MM Vetticad wrote a thorough takedown of the sequence, going so far as to call it rape.

Another issue is the way the movie addresses skin color. Bollywood has a preference for fair-skinned heroines, and the US does more than its share of whitewashing in movies and TV shows, so it’s a common problem. But Baahubali uses makeup in some overt ways that send the message that light skin is good, dark skin is bad.

Avanthika first appears to Shivudu in a vision as a pale apparition who entices him to climb the waterfall. When he sees her in reality, she’s a warrior with sun-baked skin. During their love song, he dips her under a waterfall, washing away her tan so she looks like the pale goddess of his imagination. He isn’t content to love her the way she is. He wants his dream girl, and his dream girl is fair.

On the flip side, the villains who attack the kingdom in the film’s second half are played by actors covered entirely in black makeup. It’s not clearly identified as some kind of war paint, so this appears to be blackface on a massive scale. While blackface doesn’t have the same stigma in Indian films that it does elsewhere in the world, Western audiences — Americans especially — will cringe when they see this.

It would be difficult to make changes to the thousands of warriors who fight for the bad guys, but perhaps some CGI makeup effects could be added to the rival chieftain to make it clear that this is battle regalia, and not a bunch of lighter-skinned actors dressing up as “evil” black guys.

Nevertheless, I think Baahubali is a tremendous achievement, especially considering that it cost less to produce than most American romantic comedies. Hollywood studios are foolish if they don’t offer Rajamouli a superhero franchise to direct. I’m excited that new audiences will get to experience Baahubali thanks to this re-edit. More than anything, I can’t wait until the release of Baahubali: The Conclusion in 2016!

Bollywood Box Office: August 21-23

All Is Well turned in an unspectacular opening weekend in North American theaters. From August 21-23, 2015, it earned $74,033 from 55 theaters ($1,346 average).

While one might have expected more from a movie starring Rishi Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan, the results are typical for a Bollywood movie opening in fewer than 70 theaters. About half of all Hindi films released in the US and Canada last year — 25 films, not counting The Lunchbox — opened on fewer than 70 screens, and only six of them earned more than $75,000 in their opening weekend. This year, just two of the ten Bollywood films to open in fewer than 70 theaters passed that threshold: Hamari Adhuri Kahani ($94,005) and the surprise hit NH10 ($143,209). The low opening weekend theater count suggests that distributors weren’t expecting much from All Is Well, and the movie met those expectations.

In its second weekend, Brothers‘ business fell by about 75% from its opening weekend. It earned $90,284 from 129 theaters ($700 average), bringing its North American total to $607,945.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, on the other hand, held strong in its sixth week. It took in $65,911 from 34 theaters ($1,939 average), bringing its total to $8,009,524.

Drishyam also remained popular, earning another $26,162 from 15 theaters ($1,744 average). Its total stands at $709,794.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama