Anxious to avoid an arranged marriage, Lalita (Rai) falls for visiting American Will Darcy (Henderson), but misunderstandings and a cultural divide threaten to separate them.
Director Gurinder Chadha aims to repeat the global success of Bend It Like Beckham by placing another beloved cultural icon — Jane Austen — into an Indian context. In case that wasn’t enough, the leading man is a white American and the action moves from India to LA via London.
Austen’s heroines certainly never got out this much. In fact, those familiar with Pride And Prejudice will find the Bennett sisters, now the Bakshis, much changed. These girls are allowed to go to beach raves in Goa and invite scruffy student travellers like Darcy’s love-rival Wickham (Daniel Gillies) to stay in the family home.
And while there’s much to like about the concept of a more liberated Lizzie (now Lalita), especially when she’s played by such a charismatic actress (Rai), there are pitfalls.
Rather than dancing around each other for months on end, Darcy and Lalita embark on a courtship at a more modern pace — the defining moments of their romance charted in a sloppy montage scene in LA, cheating us of any deal-sealing dialogue. Their closeness drains much of the sexual tension out of Pride And Prejudice’s suspenseful scenario, which relies on a degree of formality that’s absent in California.
And remember Lydia’s shocking elopement with Wickham in the book? Here, he merely takes Lucky (the new Lydia) to the London Eye — hardly the stuff of family scandal.
Yet much of Austen’s sharp humour is put to good use. The subcontinental setting keeps the arranged marriage storyline intact, drawing laughs from socially inept matchmaker Mrs. Bakshi (Babbar) and the bride-hunting Mr. Kohli (Nitin Ganatra): a crass, Ali G-style Hollywood businessman seeking refuge from America’s career women and lesbians. Both are surefire crowdpleasers, as are the vibrant dance numbers that simultaneously pay tribute to Bollywood and affectionately mock it, even if the accompanying songs are patchy.
Meanwhile, Lalita and Darcy’s early banter about Indian culture enjoyably exposes the pair’s prejudices — it’s just a shame this dynamic in their relationship gets so roughly jostled out of the way.
It has charm, comedy and a populist concept, but is structurally weak and too self-consciously multicultural. Excitable, ambitious and undisciplined, this gets so caught up in the party that it forgets to do justice to its more sophisticated source.