Welcome to Chadha-land, where the streets explode colorful sardars and it's perpetually chakde-phatte time. Yeah, we know. It's not meant to be taken seriously. It's meant to be wholesome, 'light-hearted fun'. But seriously, how much rabid rangolisation of 'Indian culture' can you take?
The movie is based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but the plot doesn't really seem very important here. The scriptwriter's decided to use it as a trampoline; just something to take off on and touch down with every once in a while. As a drama unfolds somewhere far in the background, the characters prance about in elaborate costume, and mouth dialogues that are strange and contrived, to say the least.
The Bakshis are a large family of four unmarried daughters and one very anxious mother (Nadira Babbar). Any unsuspecting bachelor in the vicinity will soon find this formidable matriarch snapping at his heels. Balraj (Naveen 'Kamasutra' Andrews) is quite the catch, and without much prompting he falls in love with the oldest daughter, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar).
Austen's Elizabeth Bennet is Lalitha, second in line for marriage and the bane of her mother's matrimonial ambitions. Aishwarya Rai has chosen to interpret this role as one that requires a permanent chip on the shoulder. In her first encounter with Balraj's American friend, Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), all she does is smirk, snort and pounce at his throat every time he opens his mouth. Her manner is terribly affected, especially when displaying her skills at what we will charitably call repartee.
The characters don't use their dialogues naturally, preferring instead to prop them up self-consciously. Can't blame them, the film has some painfully awkward lines, like, "You should be stirring your husband's dinner, not trouble." And, "Usne meri behen ko pregnant kar diya." Plus, an entire marketplace naach-gaana with lyrics your brain will refuse to accept as English.
There are some fun bits, though. Like the cobra-dance by one of the sisters Bakshi and a couple of randomly placed corny lines and characters. Darcy and Lalitha get off to a rough start, and are later brought together when a devious flirt runs off with her youngest sister. The time in between the sparring and the lovin' is spent with the Bakshi family that travels from Amritsar to London to LA, stopping off for heartbreaks, patch-ups and weddings.
Bride and Prejudice doesn't live up to Chadha's last film, Bend It Like Beckham. It lacks the spontaneity and warmth, and tries unsuccessfully to make up in scale. Nadira Babbar as the mother of the brides is sweet and over-the-top, but the rest of the cast is clueless, if well-meaning. Keep expectations fairly low on the way in; they're bound to be much lower on the way out.