A jubilant mess 

A review of Bride and Prejudice (PG-13)

click to enlarge Its love, Indian style, in the latest Bollywood - extravaganza, Bride and Prejudice.
  • Its love, Indian style, in the latest Bollywood extravaganza, Bride and Prejudice.

Bride and Prejudice (PG-13)

This Bollywood meets Hollywood crossbreed of musical and romantic comedy comes as close to a Busby Berkeley musical as we're likely to see in the 21st century. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, who cultivated America's soft spot for contemporary multicultural entertainment with Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen's most beloved story, set to music, choreographed and spread across three continents.

Lizzie Bennett, the girl at the center of the plot, becomes Lalita Bakshi (Aisyhwarya Rai), one of four sisters in a Punjab family whose parents can't wait to marry them off. When they attend the prenuptial celebration of a friend, oldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) quickly falls for the best man, a local returned from London, Balraj (Naveen Andrews). But Lalita is not so keen for Balraj's friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), a sullen American with imperialistic tendencies and a bad case of cultural insensitivity. Lalita pegs him as an American who enjoys "five-star comfort with a little bit of culture thrown in ... India without Indians."

The exquisite Ms. Rai, Miss World of 1994 and queen of Indian cinema, holds the camera with her sparkling green eyes amidst swirling scenes of feverish choreography, saris of every hue sweeping across the screen. This is one of those musicals where people burst into song at the most unexpected moment and the musical sets, despite their absurdity, sweep us along with their energy.

Chadha proves to be adept at the big scene, moving the camera from wide pans to close-ups to overhead crane shots, every scene exploding with color.

Two more suitors appear to woo Lalita -- a scruffy backpacker named Johnny who has a spotted past with Darcy, and an awkward Indian-turned-Los Angeles mogul. As Darcy grows more attracted to Lalita, she appears to draw farther away, but those green eyes give her away. In an across the world journey to London and Los Angeles, barriers are broken down and Lalita falls, finally, for Darcy, but not without setbacks along the way, including an encounter with Darcy's mother (Marsha Mason), who's even more a snob than he: "With yoga, spices and Deepak Chopra," she says during a conversation about traveling to India, "maybe I don't need to go there anymore."

In the meantime, we are treated to musical numbers involving a chorus of drag queens, a gospel choir and a mariachi band. A fight is choreographed in the manner of shadow puppets, against a movie screen, shadowing the action onscreen. Whenever we begin to tire of the tepid romance, the movie jumps back to life with a new spectacle.

Ms. Rai is a formidable screen presence, beautiful and intelligent and able to cross over to song and dance with ease. Mr. Henderson, on the other hand, is bland and boring. When Lalita dreams aloud, "I want to marry someone I can't wait to see every day," we wonder why the casting choice of Mr. Henderson, who's decent to look at but whose personality seems to be missing.

The film's personality, however, wins the day. Silly and tender, gaudy and gorgeous, it's everything we rarely get to see at the movies -- a jubilant, romantic mess of a good time.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Kimball's Twin Peak

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