Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) is one of four daughters in a traditional Indian family. Her cousin’s marriage brings family from far and wide. One of the family friends is Balraj (Naveen Andrews, currently on TVs “Lost”) and his sister, Kiran. Balraj is a barrister in London and all of Lalita’s sisters take a second look at him. Balraj has brough his American friend, Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), the heir to a luxury hotel chain, along for the ride. Darcy is immediately drawn to Lalita, but both people are concerned about the culture clash and no small amount of miscommunication keeps them apart.
Traveling from Amritsar, a small town in India, to Goa, to London, to Beverly Hills and back to London and Amritsar, “Bride and Prejudice”, Gurinder Chadha’s follow-up to “Bend It Like Beckham, has a scope that is probably too big for it’s own good. Attempting to meld Bollywood musicals and Western dramas with English literature, the film is successful. But it is most successful when the story is anchored to India.
Within minutes of the credits, Andrews and every other Indian male at the wedding party bursts into an elaborate, fun to watch dance that is meant to be a sort of mating dance. Then the women, including Lalita and her three sisters joins in. Darcy watches from a balcony above and resists Balraj’s attempts to get him to join in. The dance is fun, frenetic and very “Bollywood”. This dance is also a terrific way to introduce the viewer to the world of Bollywood. Let’s face it, most Westerners would probably find a Bollywood musical number at least a little strange. Due to the lack of musicals produced in Hollywood, we just aren’t used to watching people spontaneously break out into song. In India, this is apparently hugely popular. Many of their films contain this type of musical interlude.
When the film is set in India, the characters interact with Darcy and he is the outsider. When it moves to London and Beverly Hills, Lalita and her family become the outsiders. This shift, while necessary from a dramatic viewpoint, makes them appear slightly oafish and too comical. It really diminishes the intelligence of this Indian family.
The idea of mixing Bollywood-style musical numbers with western storytelling is not a new one. There have been a couple of less successful examples in the last few years. “Predjudice” falls short when the story moves to the West. As Darcy and Lalita are walking along the beach in Santa Monica, a chorus of church choir singers suddenly appears, singing. A couple of lifeguards and a few surfers also join in. This is a novel idea, but the number is not as large or elaborately choreographed as it’s Bollywood cousins and it falls short.
“Bride and Prejudice” works very hard to try to blend all of the various styles and influences that are at work here, and it succeeds, for the most part. If you are unable to overlook the less imaginative, slower, more serious Western influences, you might actually enjoy a quick glimpse into a culture that deserves more attention.