Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Movie Review: Bride and Prejudice (2004)

BrideAndPrejudice2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Aisha (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, has inspired numerous adaptations in the nearly 200 years since it was first published. The latest onscreen version, Aisha, is watchable, but its heroine misses the mark.

In this modern Indian update, directed by Rajshree Ojha, Emma is renamed Aisha (Sonam Kapoor): a wealthy girl from Delhi who fancies herself an expert matchmaker. Her intrusiveness and inability to read people winds up complicating the lives of all around her.

Of particular interest to Aisha is Shefali (Amrita Puri), a small-town girl who’s looking for a husband. Shefali presents a convenient means for Aisha to rid herself of her own dorky suitor, Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar). She sets about trying to force the two to fall in love, with disastrous results.

Debutant actress Puri does a lovely job as Shefali. She’s desperate not to disappoint Aisha, yet incapable of becoming the society girl she’s expected to be. The earnestness and excitability Puri brings to the role is spot on.

American filmgoers will find Aisha very accessible. The characters’ addictions to trendy fashions and designer labels is universal among young people with money to burn. The story is structured like many Hollywood movies (though it’s occasionally bogged down by the song-and-dance montages unique to Bollywood). A familiar story helps as well.

Emma Woodhouse is an enduring character because of her complexities: supreme self-assurance paired with a lack of real world experience, a compassionate nature mixed with uncontrollable nosiness. Like Emma herself, Sonam Kapoor lacks the experience to make Aisha an appealing leading lady. Kapoor plays Aisha as woefully immature, to the point that she seems like the lone adolescent in a world full of adults.

Kapoor delivers her lines with whiny condescension. When Aisha finally apologizes for her mistakes, it seems as if she’s doing so just so that people won’t be mad at her, and not because she’s gained any insight her own behavior. She responds to a declaration of love with a shrill and insincere, “Really?”

In the movie Clueless — another modern remake of Emma, from 1995 — the main character narrates the movie. It allows the audience to hear her thoughts, testifying to her change of character. A similar technique would’ve been useful in Aisha.

Despite a lackluster heroine, Aisha has a great supporting cast. In addition to Puri’s solid turn as Shefali, Abhay Deol reaffirms his rising star status with a charming and authentic performance as Arjun, Aisha’s long-time neighbor and friend (the George Knightly role in Emma).

The character who undergoes the most emotional growth throughout the story is Aisha’s best friend, Pinky (Ira Dubey). Pinky begins the movie as Aisha’s cynical sidekick, snobbishly looking down upon everyone but Aisha. There’s a moment when she realizes that she’s been too hard on Randhir, and it changes her outlook on life. Too bad Aisha didn’t experience such growth herself.

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Opening August 6: Aisha

The only new Hindi film releasing in theaters this weekend is Aisha, starring Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol. Aisha is a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s Emma — similar to the 1995 Hollywood film Clueless — set in high society Delhi.

Aisha opens on Friday, August 6, 2010 in the Chicago area at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 6 min.

The comedy Tere Bin Laden finally makes its Chicago area debut after releasing internationally on July 16. It also opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5.

Gangster flick Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai continues for a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and AMC South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing around Chicago this weekend include Don Seenu (Telugu), Maryada Ramana (Telugu) and Oru Naal Varum (Malayalam) at the Golf Glen 5.