Bride and Prejudice
reviewed by Steve Sailer
The American Conservative, March 14, 2005
Each week in 1930, America's 123 million people bought 90 million movie tickets. There were no televisions, no home air conditioners, and little street crime, so many ladies went to the show most evenings. Hollywood catered to their tastes with countless musicals and love stories.
Today, the average American purchases a ticket less than one-seventh as often, and moviegoers are predominantly male and young. Hollywood therefore specializes, at vast expense, in blowing stuff up.
Foreign film industries can't compete with our $100 million evil-robot-onslaught flicks, but they can make women's movies. The leading supplier to semi-literate Third World ladies is the Indian movie business, Bombay-centered "Bollywood."
India is an apt setting for complicated love stories because it has barely begun the slow transition from arranged marriages to love matches, what Samuel Huntington calls "the Romeo and Juliet revolution." The conflict between a complex social order and true love might be the most compelling and fertile subject in all literature, which is why Jane Austen's novels have been filmed so often. But Westerners now have so much sexual freedom that they dither their lives away, unable to commit because somebody better might always come along. This makes for clever comedy, as "Seinfeld," "Friends," and Bridget Jones's Diary attest, but paltry passion.
In contrast, because the maidens in Bollywood movies, which don't even show kissing, can't have sex, and their parents have vetted their beaus' financial prospects, they are free to bask in romance.
Since dumping Fabian socialism in 1991, India has been on the rise. Many Americans guiltily worry that they really ought to learn something about this ignored giga-country, but the subcontinent is dauntingly convoluted to the point of sensory overload, as exemplified by the dazzling opening chapter of Kipling's Kim.
But now a guide is at hand, offering a relatively painless way for Westerners to see a quasi-Bollywood movie adapted to our politically correct tastes.
Gurinder Chadha, a Kenyan-born Sikh raised in Britain, directed the surprise low-budget hit of 2003. "Bend It Like Beckham" was a cliché-ridden girl power movie about a teenage London Sikh lass who would rather head soccer balls into the goal than play a role in her big sister's marriage ceremony. Call it "My Big Fat Sikh Heading."
Yet, seeing an Indian wedding sounded like a lot more fun than your typical nil-nil soccer match, and Chadha must have agreed because her new film, "Bride and Prejudice," a Bollywoodized English-language musical version of Austen's classic transplanted to Amritsar, features three glittering weddings, each of which must have cost a zillion rupees.
Actually, "Bride and Prejudice's" budget was only $7 million, one-ninth of the typical American studio effort, but for that sum you can hire all the top talent in Bollywood, including its most idolized actress, green-eyed Aishwarya Rai, the Miss World of 1994. She plays, curiously enough, the Elizabeth Bennett role of the witty but not beautiful daughter. (Interestingly, the ravishing Miss Rai weighs about 20 pounds more than she would if she was working in America. Apparently, Indians find Hollywood's mandatory famine-victim diet unalluring.)
Cinematographically, even India's best can't begin to compare to what Chinese films like "Hero" are doing, but "Bride and Prejudice's" costumes and sets are so extravagant that the artlessness of their presentation hardly detracts. Likewise, Bollywood choreography, which the film's rich American Mr. Darcy (Luke Wilson-lookalike Martin Henderson) describes as screwing in a light bulb with one hand while patting the dog with the other, is ho-hum, but the Indians endearingly don't care, and you'll have more fun if you don't either. Bollywood is blessedly free of irony.
As a writer and director, Chadha is a hack, but her movies are interesting precisely because of her crowd-pleasing commercial instincts. She over-lights the swirling colors, and, when in doubt about what to shoot, always opts for another close-up of her lovely leading lady. Her attempts at crafting spunky retorts to Mr. Darcy produce merely resentful post-colonialist cant, third-hand renditions of Edward Said and Homi Bhabba. Mercifully, it's soon time for more dancing.
Fortunately, Nitin Ganatra is hilarious as Mr. Kholi, Austen's insufferable unwanted suitor. Here, he's a San Fernando Valley accountant with preposterous hip-hop affectations in the Ali G tradition. He can promise American Green Cards to not just the heroine, but, eventually, to her entire family, which shows how our inexplicable immigration laws encourage the loveless arranged marriages our movies oppose.
Rated PG-13 for one barnyard expletive.
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