BRIDE & PREJUDICE, Gurinder Chadha's new musical extravaganza, opened in Chicago on February 12th. Jan Lisa Huttner chatted with Gurinder two days before by phone. Jan was at her desk in Chicago. Gurinder was out and about, somewhere in another time zone.
JLH: Gurinder, BRIDE &
PREJUDICE takes aim at two sets of purists: the Austenites and the Bollywooders. How did you navigate between Scylla and
Gurinder Chadha: I always wanted to make a Bollywood-style movie, but I didn't want to do a parody. And I didn't want to do a pure Bollywood movie, because I can't do anything "pure." I am both English and Indian, and I'm married to a Californian who has a Japanese mother. Not only that, but I was born in Africa. So between us, Paul and I cover the world.
So I wanted to do a "Bollywood-style" movie, but combine it with the other film languages that I grew up with, namely Hollywood as well as the British cinema I saw on TV. One thing was clear to me: If I was going to do a "Bollywood" film, I had to be very clear about who my audience was. I don't make films that are Eurocentric and I don't make them so that they are Indocentric. I make films that are Diaspora-centered. I operate in global cultural paradigm, so that's the kind of the movie I wanted to make.
Once I knew my audience, the Diasporic, cosmopolitan, global audience around the world, I then thought: Right, if I am going to take this alien film language to my audience, I need a story that they're going to be familiar with and comfortable with. At that point, I thought: Wouldn't it be great to take Jane Austen! What a cheeky idea - Bollywood and its antithesis, an English literary classic!
But the thing is, once I stopped patting myself on the back for that cheeky idea, it was incredible how well the novel fitted contemporary Indian society. The cultural mores were identical. Jane Austen was writing at a time when women were not considered "whole" unless they were married. It's only through marriage that they gained status. They were supposed to be coy, and paint, and play musical instruments - but not use their brains.
And this is all stuff that's relevant in small town India today, but also in other places all over the world. Many "Elizabeth Bennets" are alive and well in India today. I've met them. So the novel fit. The process was fluid.
Director Gurdinder Chadha (in pink) on set.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
is clearly visible in the background.
JLH: Speaking as a woman whose best friend is a dues-paying member of the Jane Austen Society, what I loved most was the intricate mapping. You hit all the key plot points plus threw in all these elaborate dance numbers, and still kept it all under two hours; I thought it was a tour de force.
Gurinder Chadha: It was really hard work, continually balancing East and West! For example, instead of making Darcy just upper class, we made him American. So we made it about global conflict beyond class conflict. Darcy comes from what he perceives to be the premiere nation of the world, so he sees Lalita, our Elizabeth Bennet, as a little bit down-the-rung. She comes from a third world country. She, in turn, feels that India is far more civilized than America. And that's the truth, that's what people think in India.
JLH: Setting part of the film in America for Darcy's sake gave you a lot more latitude when you turned Mr. Collins into Mr. Kholi, didn't it?
Gurinder Chadha: In the novel, Mr. Collins is very happy that he's managed to get a house on the estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And he's always going on about how lovely, how wonderful, even what great closet space her house has! So we adopted that in the film. Mr. Kholi carries a picture of his house, colonial style, 3.5 baths. When the Bakshis visit, he shows them the bathrooms! "Look at the closet," he says. "It has all this space!" That was a direct reference. All the way through our screenplay, you'll find direct references.
We went for the essential storyline elements - basically the love story, yes, but also how these two different societies deal with women. I never wanted anyone to think that we just took the novel and went off and made it our own, like
BRIDGET JONES, which just took little elements. For me, the pleasure in watching this movie, if you know the novel, is seeing the novel unfold.
JLH: Right, about half-way through, as I settled into the mapping, I actually said to myself: "Gee, I wonder where Pemberley is going to be?" Since I knew you had to get Lalita to Pemberley, I got curious: Where in the world is
Gurinder Chadha: So you're my perfect audience, Jan, that's exactly what I wanted. I wanted people to be continually aware of the novel, because I took a very alien film language, which is Bollywood, and I combined it with traditional English literature, and for me that's the metaphor for integration. I want you to know side-by-side that you are looking at something that is 200 years old and English, and you're also looking at something that's very modern and Indian, and look how beautifully these two things can work together!
JLH: Real "Jane Austen people," those of us who treasure her, will appreciate that, Gurinder. I bet we'll all applaud your "cheeky" quality.
Gurinder Chadha: I have something to tell you: The Jane Austen Society of North America had a screening a few months back. I was a little nervous about it, but they wanted the print. They had a screening, and they all loved it so much that they've made me an Honorary Lifetime member!
JLH: So what about the Bollywood people?
Gurinder Chadha: We went to number one in India when we opened. We did terrific business there. We did more on
BRIDE than we did with
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. And we also went to number one in England, and that's a first time that's happened to the same movie in those two particular countries. We also did well in South Africa. But for some Indians, it might not be Bollywood enough, and you know, that's fine, because for some Westerners, it might be too
Some Indians from India think in a very Indocentric way, so they don't understand. So far, no true Bollywood films have been remotely successful in the West in the way this film has because they are too much geared toward the Indian audience. But
BRIDE is about me knowing my audience and knowing my market and actually being a part of it myself. I am as much a part of the West as I am Indian. Jane Austen is just as important a part of my life and my school time as Bollywood movies are. It's the combination that makes me who I am.
This interview was originally posted on the website
REALLY GOOD FILMS
is posted here with their permission.
“Chadha set out to make a fun movie, and I had great fun watching it.”
MY REVIEW OF BRIDE & PREJUDICE By Tharani Sushila
When I heard that Gurinder Chadha of
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM
fame was planning to make a Bollywood-style English movie for Western audiences a couple of years ago, I must admit to feeling a little, okay, very apprehensive. Although Western audiences have enjoyed musicals from
THE SOUND OF MUSIC in the sixties to CHICAGO a few years ago, Indian movies with their song and dance routines are nothing like anything that has been offered in the mainstream movie halls of the USA.
I grew up on a staple of Tamil movies. (Tamil is a regional language from South India & has the second largest film industry after Bollywood.) My mother and her sisters were movie buffs who eagerly awaited the release of new movies by their screen idol Sivaji Ganesan. My sisters and I were therefore introduced to the pleasure of these movies, where the hero and heroine burst in to song at the slightest provocation, be it to proclaim love or heartbreak, even tragedy and betrayal, at a very young age. In those days, when you went to the movies, you came back with a little booklet that contained the lyrics of the songs that went with the particular movie. My mother had a plastic bucket full of these little booklets which she regularly opened when she had “sing songs” with her friends. Apart from this, the radios in most houses were typically tuned to the station that played movie songs, from the newest ones to the oldest. Such is the appeal of these movies for those from the Indian sub continent. They take center stage in many people’s lives.
So, with some trepidation, I went to see
one cold dark day in Chicago. After two hours of color and song, I walked out humming “No Life without Wife.”
Gurinder Chadha had set out to make a movie from Jane Austin’s
with a distinctively Indian flair, and in my opinion she succeeded in her attempt. She had a die hard critic of the format, like me, stomping my feet and laughing out loud at the antics of Mr. Kohli, one of the suitors of the four Bakshi girls. It is a film of lavish sets and colorful, exquisite dresses. The fact that one of the most beautiful people of the sub continent and arguably in the world Aishwarya (Ash) Rai plays the equivalent of Miss Elizabeth Bennet only adds to the glamour. According to reports, the former Miss World had put on twenty pounds for the role and from the looks of it had dyed her hair brown. Why she did that puzzles me as the much slimmer Ash of the Bollywood movies, with her blackish brown tresses, would have been equally suited for the role. In fact I would have much preferred her that way.
The film opens in lush Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple. Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi are Amritsar natives who live in a sprawling house with their four daughters. Mr. Bakshi is played by the renowned Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, who plays the part of the harassed husband and father to the hilt. It’s a pity he didn’t have a meatier role. Nadira Babbar as Mrs. Bakshi complements Kher in her role as the anxious mother whose preoccupation is to land eligible grooms for her daughters.
Along come Balraj (Naveen Andrews), an NRI (“non resident Indian”), and his best friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), an American who owns a hotel empire. They’re in Amritsar to attend a friend’s wedding. The town is abuzz with mothers wanting the very eligible Balraj as prospective groom for their daughters. Colorful dance sequences at the wedding party serve as the excuse for the young set to meet and mingle. This is also the introduction to the many song and dance sequences that pepper the movie. True to Jane Austen, Balraj (aka Mr. Bingley) falls in love with the eldest Bakshi girl Jaya, played by Namrata Shirodkar, while the beautiful and cerebral Lalitha (Ash) does her best to ward off Mr. Darcy’s attentions. But he falls for her beauty and her wit anyway.
The scene then shifts to Goa where Darcy is presumable looking to expand his business and where Balraj wants to take Jaya to get to know her better. Surprisingly, her parents agree to this suggestion but ask that Lalitha accompany her sister as a chaperone. Conservative parents agreeing to such a request in India is very strange indeed. Then the scene shifts back to Amritsar, where the spectacle of a snake dance performed by the Bakshi’s third daughter (Meghana Kothari) is enough to drive Balraj back to England.
That’s when Mr. Kohli (Nitin Ganatra) enters the picture as the NRI stand-in for Mr. Collins. The Mr. Kohli type is a staple in Bollywood films; he weaves in and out of the film lightening the mood while making a clown of himself. Ganatra plays this all wonderfully well.
So then all the main characters fly to London and then on to California. It’s rare for a Bollywood movie to stay in a single location. Even if the story does not require it, there’s at least one dream sequence so the lovers can be transported to a foreign land where they can sing of their undying love. But these locations are deftly woven into the
storyline by an invitation from Lalitha’s best friend (the stand-in for Charlotte). Once they reach LA, Lalitha has the chance to get to know Darcy on his home ground.
This may all follow the formula of a “masala” movie, but at least it is a very well made one. There is a smooth flow to it and no scene feels forced. Mark Henderson plays Will Darcy as a typical Harlequin romance type hero; handsome and charming, he fits the part of the sexy millionaire hero. Ash on the other hand is disappointing, with gestures that come across as school girlish and at odds with the cerebral image her character is supposed to project. The script, though, is on target, and helps greatly with the development of the characters.
This is a wholesome movie to be enjoyed by the whole family, not one to be analyzed and pondered over for some hidden meaning or social commentary. Chadha has done a brilliant job in blending in the East and the West with the universal themes of love and family. These are themes that cut across all cultures and national boundaries. In the end,
is a movie that fills your senses with colorful images and beautiful people, and one which works very well as a light hearted romantic comedy. Chadha set out to make a fun movie, and I had great fun watching it.
Tara (right) is shown here with her friend
Calai. Photo was taken by Jan @ this year’s
Printers Row Book Fair.
Tharani (“Tara”) is a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant for GreenDreams Consulting. She moved to Chicago two years ago from Grand Rapids, MI. She came to the US 12 years ago to pursue a graduate degree. Before that she lived in Botswana, India and Sri Lanka.
She spends most of her time these days reading, and thinking about sustainable living, Women’s rights and human rights, as well as hanging out with friends.
But her greatest desire is to lie on a beach, soaking in the sun & listening to Jimmy Buffet while drinking, what else, margaritas!
Final FF2 NOTE: All photos courtesy of Miramax Films