A Brief Analysis of Film and Literature: Bride and Prejudice
Jane Austen published her famed novel Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and has been considered to be one of the most important novels of the time. Pride and Prejudice takes the audience into 19th century England, a time in which education, marriage, and class were the main means of social interaction and classification. The story follows the family of Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters as they go through the motions and stresses of British class relations. Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy, who belongs to a higher social class than Elizabeth, and must overcome her prejudices in order for their relationship to work. On the other hand, Mr. Darcy must overcome is pride that stems from Elizabeth’s lower societal position. These present the primary struggle, as well as the title itself, of Austen’s novel. These characters must handle, and conquer, the varying differences of class and wealth that create separation in British society. The potential Bennet marriages demonstrate a critical theme of Austen’s work, in that marriage is tied into legality and formality. Additionally, the loneliness and shallowness of this British class system is demonstrated as the novel continues. The marriage of the Bennet daughters demonstrates the emphasis placed on maintaining wealth, status, and the estate.
Austen’s novel has remained incredibly popular throughout the past two hundred years. As time has progressed, the medium of telling Austin’s famous tale has changed. There are plays, television programs, and even movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice today. Of these, Gurinde Chadha’s romantic comedy film Bride and Prejudice is one of the most interesting modern adaptations. Bride and Prejudice uses the very basic same storyline as Austen’s original, but updates the time and context to modern day India. Shot in the Bollywood style, essentially Indian or Hindu filmmaking, Chadha also uses musical scores and modern adaptations of the original themes to update the story. The main character Lalita, Elizabeth’s modern counterpart, is an Indian woman whose mother is hoping to marry her and her sisters off into wealthy families. Mr. Darcy is an American businessman that is travelling to India and meets Lalita and her family.
Bride and Prejudice succumbs to the trap of many other romantic comedies, in which the male and female leads originally find one another irritating but overcome their differences to fall in love. However, Chadha’s film sets itself apart from other Western romantic comedies. The Bollywood style, musical scores, and portrayal of modern multiculturalism/imperialism all provide twists to the original Austen story while changing the usual mold of romantic comedies. Chadha helps demonstrate that basic themes of Austen’s day, such as the importance of class and the categorizing of society, are still relevant today. Additionally, using the Bollywood style of film making and employing a multicultural cast, Chadha shows the modern overlapping of cultures. We live in a global society very different from that of Austen. The class differences from culture to culture are shown between Mr. Darcy and Lalita. The dinner scene between Mr. Kholi and Lalita’s family also shows the tension between “Western” and “Eastern” Indian families; Mr. Kholi travels to America, part of the Indian diaspora, to get a job but returns to India to find a wife. Because his character is used for humor, some may find him contrived or even offensive. Though this is an interesting take on Austen’s story, the musical score may be distracting and too light to give a proper respect to the source material. If done properly, music should provide additional information to the story line and help create a mood.
When Bride and Prejudice came out in 2004, it met a varying amount of critical reception and received mixed reviews. Peter Bradshaw (Britain’s The Guardian) gave the film two out of five stars, stating that Chadha’s film “cheerfully invents whole new dimensions of parochialness and shallowness, vast new acres of unreflecting naivety, that weren’t in the original. All the subtlety, all the light and shade, all the dark undercurrents of loneliness and helplessness have been merrily chucked overboard…” Bradshaw nails what many critics claim is the primary fault of Bride and Prejudice, in that the story, style, and musical nature of the film takes away all the mood from the original novel. Though the essence of the story is maintained, the presentation is described as too “saccharine.” Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers feels differently, stating that “purists who think Austen will be spinning in her grave will be wrong. She’ll be dancing.” While those like Travers may be optimistic, their voices are overcome by other negative “purist” reviews. TalkTalk gave the film a four out of ten star review, criticizing the film for “stretching” the script in many places and having “painful” musical scores. Basically, the film stays too far from the original story, attempting to make up for this with the musical scores that are ultimately unsuccessful. As Bradshaw states, much of the subtlety in the novel is lost in the films transition. The themes of loneliness and potential isolation that build through the novel are lost as the characters stop and start singing in the Bollywood style.
While watching a musical the viewer must suspend their belief and integrate themselves into a story where characters will intermittently sing and dance. These musical numbers are meant to help us better understand the story. The mood is only highlighted by the songs and dance. However, with Bride and Prejudice much of the original themes from Austen’s novel are overshadowed or completely ignored with the Bollywood style. Bollywood musicals are typically meant to be over-the-top, silly, and optimistically grand; because of this, the themes of Austen’s novel are not properly emphasized. Though, this may have been the point of Chadha’s movie. She was updating the struggles from Imperialistic British society. She never set out to make a complete mirrored story to Pride and Prejudice; rather, just used the basic structure of the story. Still, while the movie does offer an attractive look into modern globalization and diasporic American culture, it does not successfully provide an emotionally interesting story. The Bollywood style and musical numbers prevent the audience from connecting with the characters at the same level as one does in the novel.