Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Pretty Austentatious

Bride & Prejudice

With good friends who are east Indian and a fondness of Indian food, I am appreciative of and somewhat interested in Indian culture (i.e., "the ways of living built up by a human group"). This has inspired some curiosity in, but as yet not particular enjoyment of, Indian culture (i.e., "artistic and intellectual pursuits and products"). In essence, this means that I have found the 2-3 true Bollywood movies I have seen to be overlong, overwrought, over-the-top and overly simplistic. The plots are always essentially the same -- beautiful Indian girl is destined for a rich jerk but longs for the charming peasant -- and if you think Broadway musicals (which I readily enjoy) feature a lot of weirdly exuberant singing and dancing, well, Bollywood movies, the preponderance of are 4 hour musicals, make most Broadway musicals seem low-key & high-drama in comparison.

To each their own, of course, and if millions of people in India and around the world love Bollywood movies, made with a profusion that dwarfs Hollywood's output, it certainly is no big deal, literally to anyone, if I don't.

Lately, however, for understandable economic, demographic and even well-intentioned artistic reasons, there have been some high-profile attempts to merge Bollywood with Westernized entertainment. Namely: 1) Bombay Dreams, a musical which played in London & Broadway to mixed reviews and supbar box-office. I saw it on Broadway, appreciated the attempt, but found it disappointing and 2) Bride & Prejudice, a new Bollywood meets Hollywood movie musical directed by Gurinder Chadha, a British Indian who made the excellent Bend It Like Beckham. Loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, which I never read, it too was valuable for further exposing me to Indian culture -- and particularly the stunningly beautiful Aishwarya Raj, Bollywood's biggest star, who both Roger Ebert & Julia Roberts have not inaccurately called the most beautiful woman in the world -- but in sum, it too was disappointing.

In the big picture, the meshing of Bollywood/Hollywood just doesn't seem to work. It's not like there aren't thousands of real Bollywood movies out there; if you like 'em, see 'em. Or don't. But it's not like watering Indian moviemaking down to play to the suburban cineplexes creates something better.

In the small picture, or this exact one, due to Raj, Bride & Prejudice was watchable, but her American love interest was played by a handsome but eminently dim & dull Australian actor named Martin Henderson. He singlehandedly ruined whatever chance this movie had to be truly good. As the formulaic Bollywood plotline desribed above sounds much like nearly every John Cusack movie ever made, I think he could've been a whole lot better in the role of Will Darcy. At least he has some humorous, almost roguish charm, that while not making Bride & Prejudice anything wonderful at least would have made it a better popcorn movie.

Supposedly, Aishwarya Raj is slated for roles in Hollywood-made movies and that should only be a good thing. While the red states may not tolerate a Hindu movie starlet in American roles, at least within the blue states she seems to have the aura to become a somewhat exotic, modern day Audrey Hepburn-type star.

Some movies are worth seeing, not because they're good, but just because they're worth knowing a bit more about. Bride & Prejudice falls into that category, but you can surely wait until it hits video.

No comments: