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:: Bride and Prejudice

Jane Austen goes to Bollywood in the latest dazzling offering from the Bend It Like Beckham team. Director, Gurinder Chadha translates the quintessential English novel, Pride and Prejudice, surprisingly smoothly into a story about the cultural clash of east and west in modern-day India.

The traditional Bennet family becomes the Bakshis, a family with four eligible daughters living in Amritsar, an Indian backwater. There is the beautiful Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar), feisty Lalita (Aishwarya Rai), Maya (Meghnaa) who is eager to please and flirtatious Lakhi (Peeya Rai Chodhuri), the youngest. For Mrs Bakshi (Nadira Babba) every local wedding is a chance for gossip and matchmaking, where she might find husbands for her daughters. At this wedding the Best Man, Balraj (Naveen Andrews), is a handsome wealthy bachelor living abroad. When he notices Jaya, she thinks her prayers are answered. A man like him might ensure the comfort and good name of the entire family…if only he’ll marry her.

Balraj’s proud American friend, Darcy (Martin Henderson), is far less desirable. Despite an enormous fortune, he is condescending, rude and uncultured. Lalita hates him. Her sites are set on another traveller, free-spirited bad boy Johnny Wickham. As usual, her matchmaking mother has other ideas about who Lalita should marry.

Bollywood superstar and former Miss World, Aishawarya Rai (Devdas), plays Lalita with characteristic Bollywood emotion. Her beauty alone is captivating, but as a spirited, modern girl who’s not afraid to burst into a playful song and dance routine, she’s also a great ambassador for her country. Playing opposite her as Will Darcy is pseudo-Aussie Martin Henderson. Strictly speaking he’s from New Zealand, but as an ex-Home and Away star and good mate of Heath Ledger’s, he’ll be ‘our Martin’ before you know it. He has a look and acting ability that suggests we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in years to come.

If you’re new to Bollywood, Bride and Prejudice is a fantastic introduction. It’s far shorter than the usual marathon of melodrama, and the songs are sung in English and tuned to a western ear. In true Bollywood style the audience is greeted with a rainbow of swirling saris, drama and humour. It’s an English production collaborating with Indian artists, so it doesn’t pretend to be completely authentic. Bride and Prejudice gives a just a taste of the real India to western audiences, allowing us a glimpse into one of the most successful film genres in the world.