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Bride and Prejudice

(2005) *** Pg-13
101 min. Miramax Films. Director: Gurinder Chadha. Cast: Martin Henderson, Aishwarya Rai, Daniel Gillies, Naveen Andrews, Nitin Ganatra.

A part of me was dreading Gurinder Chadha's Jane Austen-meets-Bollywood-meets-Hollywood pastiche Bride and Prejudice. The Guru, Bollywood/Hollywood, and other East-meets-West musical comedies had left me cold. But Chadha's talent, energy, and sheer force of good cheer won me over: Bride and Prejudice is a jolly good time at the movies.

Chadha opens on a shot of the Golden Temple in the holy city of Amritsar. Here, Lalita (Bollywood starlet Aishwarya Rai), one of four Indian daughters of marriageable age, resists her parents' attempted arrangements (the mother warns her daughters, "Don't say anything too intelligent"). A barrister named Balraj (Naveen Andrews of TV's Lost) arrives to represent a model husband, but Lalita finds herself drawn to his traveling companion, American hotelier Will Darcy (Martin Henderson of The Ring). The male-female mating dance gets its requisite guys versus girls production number, colorfully detailed.

The mutual attraction of Lalita and Darcy is fueled by friction. When Darcy betrays he'd consider building a hotel in India, Lalita snaps, "I don't want you turning India into a theme park. I thought we got rid of imperialists like you." Their tiffs make Lalita prone to the dashing Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies), Darcy's sworn enemy. Melodrama is the point: a clever climax coordinates a Bollywood fight scene on a theatre screen with a scuffle happening in the aisle.

The happily excessive plot also follows the fortunes of Lalita's sisters and their better-and-worse suitors. As the goofball Indian-American suitor Mr. Kholi, Nitin Chandra Ganatra channels Peter Sellers; with his horse laugh and bumbling physical comedy, he steals the film (Chadha partly based this Hollywood-based player on producer Deepak Nayar).

Chadha has an eye for casting and visual color, and a knack for goosing the story along with modernized references (the traditionalists' disdain for practices like "texting boys") and, of course, the musical numbers (to underline the multicultural celebration, Chadha incorporates a mariachi band and a gospel choir). Bride and Prejudice brims with enough comic and musical invention to guarantee this joyful multiculti Hollywood-Bollywood hybrid a crossover success.

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