Bride and Prejudice is the light-hearted East-meets-West result of transplanting Jane Austen's 19th-century classic into modern-day India. Directed by Bend It Like Beckham's Gurinder Chadha, the film embellishes Ms. Austen's plot with the forms of India's Bollywood film industry: catchy songs, dance, and stunning costumes.
Aishwarya Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, second in a family of four daughters, who locks horns with wealthy American hotelier William Darcy (Martin Henderson). When he accompanies an Indian friend to a wedding in Amritsar, India, his dislike of the bustling chaos convinces Lalita of his arrogance and snobbery.
Some things the film does well: The characters celebrate family and marriage, and the Bollywood influence ensures that the two main characters do not so much as kiss as their romance develops. Certain Austen characters also translate neatly while capturing today's cross-border trends in arranging Indian marriages: The smarmy Mr. Collins turns into the pretentious and uncultivated Mr. Kholi, an undesirable husband but for his Green Card and California job. And when Mrs. Bakshi sees her daughters' marriage prospects melting away, she dolefully scrolls through websites listing single Indian men looking for wives.
But Bollywood style tends to overpower the Austen character development and dialogue. An extra twist also complicates the relationship between Darcy and Lalita: The characters must contend with a culture clash, not only a difference in social status. Whereas Darcy and Elizabeth had to meet each other halfway in overcoming their character flaws, Bride's Darcy alone has to recognize the shallowness of his Western life in favor of the East's richness. At one point he suggests adding a luxury hotel in India to his chain, and Lalita quickly accuses him of acting like an "imperialist." That's a line you would likely hear in a university intercultural studies course.
Movies like Ms. Chadha's, who is a British Indian, are particularly popular among South Asians living in the West because of the tensions and similarities they draw out between two cultures. Bride and Prejudice is an entertaining look at modern middle-class Indians, but its format is too lightweight to explore that theme properly.