October 6, 2022
A family of daughters eligible for marriage. The promise of marrying above one’s station, of securing not just your future but the future of your family. The reductive needs of the marriage market, a suitable word for an arena where women must out-pretty each other to catch the eye of the most eligible suitor. Pride dismantles the most potent dynamics. The microcosm Jane Austen captures in her novel Pride and Prejudice, which features marriage-obsessed mothers and their eager but apprehensive daughters, may as well be a story set in any part of India. With Bride & Prejudice (2005),filmmaker Gurinder Chadha — behind the generation-defining Bend it Like Beckham (2002) — takes Austen for a Bollywood spin.
In the vein of the opening line to Austen’s novel, it is a truth universally acknowledged that every Indian movie is a movie about marriage, even when it’s not. Matrimony and the attributes that follow: love, children, family, society, in that order, are so inextricable from our narratives that they have gone on to inspire our most successful films. But Austen’s Pride and Prejudice isn’t simply a novel about marriage, but a story about two stubborn, proud people who judge freely, the very adult maturity in changing one’s mind, and, of course, a heroine who earns love on her terms. No wonder it has spun multiple adaptations, the most among Austen’s rich oeuvre. Chadha takes Austen’s treatise, infuses it with the smell of mustard fields, a great deal of levity, Aishwarya Rai, and a clash of the East vs. West. The result is a ridiculously silly film that is breezy at best and outdated at worst.