Bride and Prejudice: From a Classic Novel to Popular Culture

“Bride and Prejudice”, is a Gurinder Chadha’s cross-cultural screen interpretation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “pride and Prejudice”. It is Chadha’s adaptation of late eighteenth century view of love and marriage by Jane Austen. Chadha, from the onset, combines colorful song and dance, with dazzling costumes to take a comic position of this Bollywood movie. Moreover, this Bollywood brilliance carries on into the rendition of the original text to the twenty first century modern Indian setting. In this movie, taken-for granted prejudices are blatantly exposed. Subsequently, geographical cultural identities and unquestioned historical connections, which have been traditionally associated with specific social groups are deconstructed. In this sense, this movie transcends cinematic genre boundaries, not only in form and content, but also national boundaries. It epitomizes early nineteenth England canonical English Literature into early twenty-first-century India.

Released in 2004, this modern-day analogy of Jane Austen’s classic features Mr. Darcy (Martin Henderson) and the Indian Heroine Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) who find themselves overcoming several issues such as prejudice, pride, cultural crush and class distinctions. This movie tries to contemporize the setting. However, Chadha manages to maintain many usually de-emphasized issues in the foreground as a result of the caste defined and heavily patriarchal Indian culture.

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In the first meeting, Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice supplements the Meryton Assembly with the Indian equivalent of a rehearsal dinner. By doing this, he is able to maintain most of the movie’s plot similar to the original. Darcy is baffled by the strange customs in this scene. In the novel, Darcy acts indifferently. He refuses to dance with other women at the assembly besides those women from his party. He also declines introduction to other attendees. This attitude gains him the reputation of the “most proud man in the world” (Austen 10). To set up Darcy’s character, Chadha interprets this scene by portraying Americans as ignorant and rude. Darcy’s ignorance is exemplified throughout the scene. It is taken to represent him as unwilling to get to know other people’s culture. For example, when the dance that introduces men to women starts, Darcy is shocked at the action and asks, “What is happening now?” His tone in asking this question is derogatory. Balraj, the Bingley equivalent then joins the group of dancing men. Darcy consequently grins indicating his opinion that the culture Balraj is engaging in is inferior to his.

Not only does Darcy despise the Indian culture by way of his standpoint, but he also shows his lack of interest in learning the culture. A good example is when Darcy hopelessly tries to fix the strings to his pants. Balraj offers to help him, but Darcy looks away. This demonstrates his indifference towards finding a solution. This ignorance is portrayed further when Darcy is introduced to the Bennet’s family counterparts, the Bakshi’s. Darcy is not sure what to do and stands to the side. At some point, he slightly bows towards Lalita, an action which is returned with a look of both displeasure and confusion by Lalita. He further upsets Lalita and her family when he is offered an opportunity to learn their dances, but declines, siting that he needs to get back to work. This is interpreted by the Bakshi’s as pride and disinterest in their traditions. Mrs. Bakshi responds, …rich American, what does he think, we are not good enough for him?”(Austen 18).  To the Bakshi’s, Darcy is pompous and disinterested.

In the movie, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s different upbringings are highlighted, similar to the novel. We can see the difference between the beautiful mansion where Darcy grew up, and the plain house and neighborhood where Elizabeth grew up. The difference in lifestyle enables us comprehend Darcy’s tendency towards arrogance and pride.

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We also notice that, in the movie, Westernized characters, nevertheless, are not the only ones who are initially prejudiced. The trip to Los Angeles also transforms Lalita, just as Lizzy was transformed on her visit to Permberley in Austen’s novel. Lalita realizes that her initial view of all Americans as imperialists is wrong. She realizes that “real America” has a plurality of identities. Another sign of this multiculturalism in Los Angeles is evidenced when Darcy takes Lalita to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. A gospel choir composed of African-Americans and white surfers perform a typical Bollywood musical number for the couple. In addition, from the helicopter that the two take afterward, Lalita is able to see a variety of landscapes ranging from the city, the sea, the canyon to the desert. This symbolically shows the diverse identities present in the area.

In London, no musical number is done. However, the city is portrayed as a site that embraces several great identities. The audience is treated to a view of luxurious British-Asian upper class mansions in the country side. Lakhi (Peeya Rai Choudhuri), Lalita’s younger sister, also associates with Wickham allowing the audience to get a view tourist sights in England such as the Camden Town. This further expands the pluralistic identities present in Britain apart from the English upper classes that have been initially associated with British identity in Austen’s 1813 novel.

In the “Bride and Prejudice”, two very important episodes in the novel are joined: Lizzy’s visit to Charlotte and Mr. Collins, and her visit to Pemberley. Gurinder Chadha combines these two scenes by having Darcy’s wedding at Darcy’s hotel which is equivalent to his home. This scene further emphasizes Darcy and Lalita’s different backgrounds. In the first scene, Darcy interacts with Lalita’s culture, and vice versa in this scene. Similar to the novel’s Pemberley scene, this creates sympathy towards Darcy. Lalita also meets Darcy’s mother (comparable to Lady Catherine De Bourgh in the novel). She figures where Darcy’s ignorance comes from. Mrs. Darcy’s colonialist image of India annoys Lalita, and she retorts back. Mrs. Darcy’s attitude towards other cultures is similar to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s attitude towards people of lower classes in the novel. Lalita’s countering to Mrs. Darcy parallels Lizzy’s attitude towards Lady Catherine.     

In addition, Jane Austen’s novel endings are renowned for her methods of “tying up” loose ends. Similarly, the editors of “Bride and Prejudice” managed to create a quick recap at as the movie ends. However, in contrast to the brief summary that the novel had on the Bennet family life, the movie goes through snapshots of all the couples and their families before the movie ends. Every participant of the movie is given credit that starts with a clip of Darcy and Lalita followed by the Bakshi’s, then Balraj and Jaya. This allows the audience to have one last glance at the characters and the couples that were formed before the movie ends. This recap gesture is analogous to Jane Austen’s summary at the end of her novel.

Just before the movie ends, the audience wonders whether Darcy and Lalita will abandon their respective cultures to be together. Chadha, however, manages to create a scene that symbolically and literally marries the East and West. Balraj (Bingley) arrives in India to get married to Jaya (Jane). Darcy is seen in slacks an Indian button down shirt and slacks playing traditional drums. We are able to see Darcy in a new light, in this scene. His character has changed to reveal a kind-hearted man led awry by his upbringing. This action by Darcy illustrates openness to a new culture whilst maintaining one’s identity. Jaya, Balraj, Darcy, and Lalita are later seen on traditional Indian outfits riding off elephants. In addition to this traditional Indian send-off, a “just married” sign is hung on the back of the elephants. Although Chadha joins two scenes from the novel here, Darcy’s character is repudiated by being contrasted to his mother’s insensitive behavior. In the novel, Darcy’s good character is given as an account by his maid. In the novel, Darcy is a symbol of the rich figure that has no class boundaries. In the movie, however, he becomes symbolic of a multi-cultural breed of individuals who can bind two different cultures.

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In the “Bride and Prejudice” the issue of class, prevalent in the novel, is updated to differences between cultures and races (Cartmell 107). By marrying Lalita, Will becomes a symbol of multi-cultural facet. As the movie comes to an end, he accepts Lalita’s culture. He is able to enjoy it whilst maintaining his identity.

Unlike other adaptations to Austen’s book, “Pride and Prejudice” can be referred to as an analogy in that it adopts the plot points, and format of the novel and fits them into a multi-national 21st century world. This movie is able to critique the colonialist mentality and old-fashioned imperialist so as to address a 21st century world with multi-cultural citizens. It outlines how two cultures can come together and create a new one. Since Jane Austen’s time, the issues in “Pride and Prejudice” have changed and presented themselves in different ways. Most of the issues that this movie, “Bride and Prejudice” portrays are similar to the ones discussed by Austen in her novel, but they have been updated to fit into a twenty first century Indian context.

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