Bride and Prejudice

Hollywood musicals are better.

I have just come back from reviewing the innovative "Moulin Rouge" (2002) for a college film festival. Bride and Prejudice, the new American/British co-production of Miramax, is no Moulin Rouge: Its innovation, to update the always ripe-for-adaptation Pride and Prejudice, is no more than seeing the arguably most beautiful woman in the world, Aishwarya Rai as Lalita, riding on a hay wagon in perfect composure, makeup, and attitude (Roger Ebert and "60 Minutes" are distracted by her world-class beauty; I'm not).

Yes, she's Pride, pushing away the advances of American Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), and he's Prejudice, reacting poorly to Indian culture and fighting her pride all the way to the altar. This all attempts to reconstruct Austen's sardonic view of social climbing in merry ol' England. Where it travels to poor taste is the excessive machinations of
Lalita's mother, Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar), to secure husbands for all her duaghters. Her manic fawning over candidates is annoying and good enough reason to avoid arranged marriages and this movie.

Perhaps the only reason to watch this musical is to see the fusion of Hollywood with Bollywood(really the old Bombay). The Bollywood tradition of elaborate musicals that burst into song at any moment is safe here except that a musical number in a Mexican restaurant becomes gratuitous when it barely moves or reflects the plot. Even Hollywood has better rationales for its numbers. Give the Indian side credit for making this film a parody and for holding Darcy accountable in his seeking a hotel having "five-star comfort with a bit of culture thrown in"; the boy is a seriously- challenged traveler.

Director Gurinder Chada has a better film in Bend It like Beckham (2002), in which Parminder Nagra plays a London girl from a Kenyan family with Punjabiroots. Nagra's Jess effortlessly breaks social barriers and hearts while Ari's Lelita simply breaks the lens with her beauty. Although I'm usually on the European side in the film culture wars, I must flatly claim that Hollywood's musicals are superior, even if they are produced by the Brit-loving Miramaxes owned by the terminally sweet Disneys.