No, not the upcoming remake with Keira Knightly. This version is a musical romantic comedy bundled as pure entertainment (and yes, that includes the singing AND the dancing).
Lalita Bakshi (Aishwarya Rai) is the exception in an Indian house full of single daughters. Much to the chagrin of her opportunistic mother, Lalita is perfectly happy as a free, unmarried woman while her sisters dream of being married off to the perfect man. Eligible (and rich) bachelor Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews) arrives looking for a bride, but it is Balraj’s American friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) that sees the cool intellectual Lalita as a potential life partner. But before either can agree to anything as complicated as marriage, they’ll both have to endure tragedy, triumph, and huge musical numbers before finally getting it together.
For American audiences unfamiliar with modern Indian cinema, Bride & Prejudice serves well as an introduction to Bollywood while not straying too far from home. It stars India’s very own self-made girl-next-door sweetheart Aishwarya Rai (who can disarm the most confident man in any country with a glance), American actor Martin Henderson (late of Windtalkers and The Ring), and British-born actor Naveen Andrews (Sayid on television’s “Lost.”) And like the Hollywood musicals of old, singing your feelings out loud (along with whomever happens to be in the room or on the street at the time) is the order of the day.
Unlike the recent theatrical release of Chicago (which separated the musical bits into a alternate reality performed on stage while the “real” action continued in the real world), Bride & Prejudice does it the old way and just breaks into dance, which is both amazing and off-putting when you’re not used to it. The clever director Gurinder Chadha realizes this also, peppering actor Martin Henderson with lines like “Screw in the light bulb, pet the dog?” when describing the wild synchronized dances that everyone in a musical mysteriously seems to know all the moves to. Henderson, as Darcy, serves as the eyes of an American stranger in a strange land.
Jane Austen purists (and her entire society) may not appreciate Bollywood’s enthusiasm in rewriting her two-century old novel, updating it to modern times, and adding song and dance. Additionally, even the darkest of moments is peppered with comedic bits and lyrics referring to “rack size” when talking about attracting a man. The reinterpreted story works, but not everyone will warm up to this latest all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood retro musical.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)