Despite the obvious differences in genres, locations, and time periods, it’s impossible to watch Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (2004) without comparing it to other works inspired by, or adapted from, Jane Austen’s novel. I think Bridget Jones’s Diary probably did a better job of modernising the story for British audiences, by streamlining the cast of characters, and grounding the story in a more relatable milieu… but still, there’s a lot to be said for the exotic globe-trotting that occurs in Chadha’s version, as the heroine follows her ‘Darcy’ from Amritsar to L.A., via Goa, London and the Grand Canyon!
In this iteration, ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ is recast as a feisty Indian gal named ‘Lalita Bakshi’, played by Aishwarya Rai… while Darcy is an arrogant American hotelier, played by Martin Henderson. Personally, I didn’t think he was nearly dickish enough in the earlier scenes… but then, I’m judging him in comparison to the previous Darcy’s I’ve seen on screen, rather than as a character in himself. Likewise, his nice-but-dim chum, ‘Mr. Bingley’ (aka ‘Mr. Balraj’), is a little too bright and bold here… although I did enjoy seeing Naveen Andrews busting out some dance moves, and playing a lighter comedy role for once. Shame he didn’t have more scenes, really.
Meanwhile, the supporting Bennet sisters have been whittled down to three Bakshis: ‘Jaya’ (Jane), played by Namrata Shirodkar… ‘Maya’ (Mary), played by Meghna Kothari (aka Meghnaa)… and Lakhi Bakshi (Lydia Bennet), played by Peeya Rai Chowdhary. Aishwarya Rai may have been voted the Most Beautiful Woman in the World™, but I have to say I found Lalita a little too vanilla for my tastes, so this time around my favourite sister was Maya… mostly because of the show-stopping, scene-stealing “Cobra Dance” she does to entertain the family’s astonished house guests! They all react as if it’s terribly embarrassing (or just plain terrible), but I thought it was fantastic. Certainly more impressive than Lalita’s acoustic guitar-playing on the beach, anyway. Oh, and Darcy’s younger sister ‘Georgie’ was played by Alexis Bledel… but she’s a lot less likeable in this version than she is in the others, as she inadvertently mocks Lalita’s “gold-digging” mother, without knowing they’re related. Oopsie!
Overall, I thought this was a very colourful, cheerful musical-comedy, that managed to inject some adrenaline into an over-familiar story… and even if you don’t enjoy the songs or the jokes, you have to admit the scenery is superb!