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By Stina Chyn | February 28, 2005

Jane Austen’s works (“Emma,” “Persuasion,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Mansfield Park”) possess a narrative and thematic strength that has lent itself open to adaptations to television and cinema. When skillfully re-conceptualized, the emotional depth of her novels can wear a variety of skins and geographic relocations without losing its character. Gurinder Chadha’s (“Bend It Like Beckham”, “What’s Cooking”) film “Bride & Prejudice” is a funny, festive, genre-bending adaptation of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi (Anupam Kher and Nadira Babbar) of Amritsar, India have four free-spirited daughters: sharp-tongued Lalita (Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai), sweet-natured Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar), spunky Lakhi (Peeya Rai Chowdhary), and musically inclined Maya (Meghna Kothari). After attending a wedding, Mrs. Bakshi wishes for nothing more than to see her two oldest daughters, Lalita and Jaya, married as well. Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews) of the UK seems like a good match for Jaya. Lalita doesn’t know it yet, but Will Darcy (Martin Hendersen), Balraj’s American friend, has his eyes on her. The primary narrative goal is to make sure certain characters end up together, but not without misunderstandings and other circumstantial obstacles getting in the way.

Fitted to this particular contemporary setting, Gurinder’s film not only addresses a clash of the sexes, but also arrogance and ethnocentrism, which are forms of pride and prejudice. In re-inventing the aesthetics of this story, the director has turned “Pride and Prejudice” into a musical that references Bollywood traditions more than Hollywood. Although there are no instances of an entire crowd of people joining in on a song (without some sort of context, like a wedding reception, which suggests the lyrics were already known), there are many choreographed numbers that involve color-coded costumed townspeople participating in a frenzy of glee. For people who have a hard time watching American musicals—and accepting that orchestral accompaniment will sound out of no where while the characters express their feelings through singing—they may be baffled as to why a perfectly good melodrama glazed with acerbic wit must become a song and dance spectacle.

Of course, “Bride & Prejudice” does not have to be a musical. Martin Hendersen ought not look like he’s unconsciously uncomfortable being in one. You need not feel like you’re watching a very long South Asian music video. You don’t have to oscillate between laughing at the characters and laughing with them. Adding this Bollywood component, though, illustrates the issue of two different cultures colliding. Gurinder Chadha has taken a novel of which its social commentary is relevant in every generation and has re-envisioned it with hubris and ebullience.

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