Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Namrata Shirodkar, Naveen Andrews
(PG-13, 110 min.)
"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all." Harriet Van Horne
Remember those good old days some fifty years ago, when being in love, heartbroken, or angry with the neighborhood cop, was merely an excuse to break into song? In Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice you get that same exuberance, that same fantasy world where a perfectly tuned orchestra, chorus, and dancers are available at the drop of a hat, or should we say veil.
And what a way to celebrate spring, whose gauzy array of verdant leaves, and painter’s palette blossoms pale in comparison to the dancing colors of India!
The Bollywood film is inspired by Jane Austin’s socially piquant novel of almost the same name, but under Chandra’s direction we have more a celebration of life and love, with just enough cultural tensions to add some spice.
It is a simpler world in the rural village of Amritsar, India, where Lalita Bakshi lives with her parents and three sisters. Their mother’s sole concern seems to be marrying off her two oldest, Jaya, and Lalita. That they are played respectively by a former Miss India (Namrata Shirodkar as Jaya) and 1994 Miss World as well as Queen of Bollywood herself (Aishwarya Rai as Lalita), doesn’t lessen the task.
Both girls meet the men of their dreams at a friend’s wedding, which statistically speaking, is often the case, even here in the U.S.A. Or shall I say, Jaya does; Lalita takes some persuading. Every encounter with the rich and handsome American Darcy ends in anger, but we see their sparks like those between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara – really the proof of a soon-to-be-lit fire of passion.
Darcy is immediately captivated by Lalita’s beauty and can’t take his eyes off her as he watches the array of nubile girls dancing before the marriage ceremony. And such a dance! The jewels sparkle, the garments swirl with that same blend of innocent sexuality we got from Barbara Eden’s I Dream of Jeannie. Under their parents’ eyes, as just about everything there is, their hips gyrate playfully, almost in self-mockery, and their eyes invite glances. This is nothing like the bumps and grinds that have come to characterize much of our current choreography, and worlds away from the almost pathetic spectacle of scantily clad middle-aged cheerleaders we now have in professional sports.
Darcy gets off on the wrong foot with Lalita, both figuratively and literally. He criticizes the town’s “best hotel” as beneath his standards and questions the practice of arranged marriages. Lalita shoots back by citing the high divorce rate in America. And later on she describes the luxurious Indian hotel his American chain is thinking of purchasing as a way foreigners can say they’ve traveled to India without having dared to experience it.
When the two hit the dance floor, unlike Jaya and Balrag, who twirl with abandon as they gaze into each other’s eyes, Darcy is awkward and clumsy. It’s as if narrow-minded opinions about India constrain his movements as well as his thoughts.
The real role of obnoxious American, however, is given to one of Darcy’s rivals, Mr. Kholi (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), an Indian who has migrated to America and absorbed conspicuous consumption in super-sized proportions. Even when he settles into his old Indian customs, he offends. Mr. Kholi eats with his hand, as he should, but he stuffs his mouth too full and then proceeds to spew rice and words at his hosts in an never-ending verbal barrage. Back in adopted L.A., he leads his Indian guests on a tour of his house featuring every high-tech gadget and appliance known to the 21st century. Many are impressed, but not Lalita.
And yes, the India of Bride and Prejudice is no more a realistic portrait of that country than the yellow brick road was Kansas. It’s all over the top, and yes, cheesy, but what’s not to like?
Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies), an Englishman also wooing Lalita, emerges mysteriously from the sea like some male Aphrodite (or maybe the masculine version of Ursula Andrews in her Bond epic) to complicate matters. Darcy’s hints about his dark past fall of deaf ears and maybe even heighten rebellious Lalita’s interest in him.
The Indian wedding where it all begins is complete with a “spontaneous” transvestite dance troupe – not the campyRocky Horror Picture Show version, but more like the South Pacific cross-dressing with coconut-clad breasts. In L.A. the wooing has its thrills, too. Darcy takes Lalita to a Mexican restaurant, where Mariachis and margaritas are not out of place, but the full gospel choir that springs from the golden sands on the beach is a bit of a surprise.
While Bride and Prejudice explores the impact of arranged marriages, pushy parents, and cultural clashes with none of the textured balance of Monsoon Wedding, the laugh-out-loud hilarity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or the disillusioning inevibility of the Israeli film, Late Marriage, it sings its own song – a celebration of life and the triumph of true love.
You have gotten a taste of the joy and exuberance of India through Bride and Prejudice, but you must really consume their delicately spiced cuisine to gain a full appreciation. Let’s avoid the dangerous rice dish that Mr. Kholi showers his hosts with and concentrate on something a bit more stable.
Suneeta Vaswani comes to the rescue with her delicious but easy Lamb and Potato Hash. Don’t worry if you can’t get each and every exotic ingredient; her unexpected pairings of our usual spices will be enough to awaken a new sense and sensibility (apologies to Dear Jane Austin) to your palate.
You can find more delicious recipes in her newly released Easy Indian Cooking available at her website mentioned below.
Lamb and Potato Hash
- 1 pound boneless lamb, cut in bite-size pieces
- 2 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste or minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons garlic paste or minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 3-inch piece cinnamon
- 4 cloves
- 4 green cardamom, smashed open
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups finely sliced onion, sliced tip to stem
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced green chili
- 1/2 pound peeled diced potato, diced into _ inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 cups chopped mint leaves
- Put lamb, onion, ginger, garlic and salt in a pan. Add 2 1/2cups water and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lamb is tender and water is absorbed, about 45 minutes – 1 hour.
- In a large skillet or pan, heat oil on medium high heat. Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and bay leaves. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add onions and sauté until onions are golden, about 10-12 minutes.
- Add ginger, garlic and chilies and cook 2 minutes. Add lamb, and brown well, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add potatoes. Brown 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add coriander, cumin and salt. Cook 3-4 minutes. Add vinegar, cook 1 minute.
- Mix in mint and serve hot with any Indian bread.
Recipe Source: Suneeta Vaswani