Have you seen the new film “Bride and Prejudice” yet? I saw it this weekend: horrible title, mediocre script, some questionable acting, plot holes you could drive a herd of sacred cows through, and I LOVED every second of it! As the none-too-subtle title suggests, the film is a Bollywood version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Instead of the Bennet family in 18th century England, we have the Bakshis of 21st century India. The film could not be more removed from the documentary I saw recently that takes place in India, “Born into Brothels,” yet there were many parallels to the other film I blogged about that weekend, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Just like Tevye and Golde’s daughters, the four Bakshi sisters are all of marriageable age and their parents are desperately seeking suitable matches.
For Papa, make him a scholar
For Mama, make him rich as a king.
For me, well, I wouldn’t holler
If he were as handsome as anything…
The Elizabeth Bennet/Tzeitel character is named Lalita and she is played by Aishwarya Rai, the Queen of Bollywood and the highest paid actress in India. I bet this film will be the first exposure many Americans have to Indian culture. And that’s a little scary. First of all, are we to assume that every woman in India under the age of 35 is a freaking supermodel? Oh my God, not since Flo Ziegfeld died has such a bevy of beauties been gathered together in one location! With the frequent soft focus close-ups of these ethereal women in their dazzling colorful saris, the film borders on softcore porn, or at least the Miss India beauty pageant (and, in fact, Aishwarya Rai was Miss World 1994). The men are far less colorful. Austen's Charles Bingley becomes Indian Balraj Bingley, Mr. Darcy becomes the rich but boring American Will Darcy (with a nice cameo by Marsha Mason as his snobby mother who tells the Bakshis she doesn't need to visit filthy India since she can already do yoga and eat tandoori chicken in L.A.).
We are clearly supposed to admire Lalita for her feminist ideals. She informs her parents that she will only marry for love and not for money or social advancement. That’s why she rejects the successful Indian man, Mr. Kholi (who has embraced Western culture and now lives in the San Fernando Valley but still wants a traditional Indian bride) that her meddling mother has found for her. Have you noticed that movie feminists these days have to be drop-dead gorgeous or else they’re not allowed to espouse such views? Lord, you haven’t seen such heavy makeup on a feminist since Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy bunny in 1963. And while Lalita supposedly spurns the comical Mr. Kholi because of her values, you could also say she dumped the Indian geek in favor of the American stud who, by the way, happens to be a billionaire. So, yes, true love always wins out—provided that your partner is outrageously attractive and loaded. Oy, at least Tzeitel risked everything for poor destitute Mottel the Tailor. Now there’s a real feminist!
The most thrilling part of “Bride and Prejudice” (and I defy you to pronounce that title correctly at the theatre box office) is the Bollywood-style singing and dance numbers. Where the few American musicals that still exist are so sophisticated they have to have damn good explanations for the characters singing, in this film people are endlessly bursting into song without the slightest provocation. Every number suddenly finds hundreds of extras singing along with the stars of the film and gyrating to the beat in an explosion of sound and color. The dance moves look more like a super-aerobics workout than anything in Jerome Robbins’ repertoire—you haven’t seen this much energy depicted on-screen since Busby Berkeley doped up Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland on amphetamines.
On another pop culture note, three icons left us today: John Raitt, Sandra Dee, and Hunter S. Thompson. Long before John Raitt was known as Bonnie Raitt’s dad, he starred as the original Billy Bigelow in the 1947 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel” and later in the Broadway and movie version (with Doris Day) of “The Pajama Game” where he introduced this timeless if depressing song:
Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes
Love never made a fool of you
You used to be too wise
Hey there, you on that high flying cloud
Though she won't throw a crumb to you
You think some day she'll come to you
Better forget her
Her with her nose in the air
She has you dancing on a string
Break it and she won't care
Sandra Dee was the first “Gidget” and also took over the “Tammy” franchise from Debbie Reynolds. That image made her the object of derision in the song from “Grease” that begins:
Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity
Won't go to bed till I'm legally wed
I can't, I'm Sandra Dee!
Like Doris Day, I think Sandra Dee’s squeaky-clean image occasionally camouflaged her true talents. She showed what she was capable of in films like “Imitation of Life” and “A Summer Place” but never got many chances to shine after that and her career was mostly over by age 26. She is being portrayed on-screen right now by Kate Bosworth in the Kevin Spacey film “Beyond the Sea” about Dee's former husband Bobby Darrin. Rumor had it that Sandra Dee went to the Beverly Hills Library every day. I’ll miss looking for her in the stacks there!
I always meant to read Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and now I will. I did see the film starring Johnny Depp who is in the midst of making another film adaptation of one of Thompson’s books, “The Rum Diary.” Thompson committed suicide today, ending what must have been a very difficult life.
Sandra Dee also suffered a lot—from anorexia, depression, cancer, and the kidney disease that killed her. I can imagine Sandra singing the following song written about John Raitt’s Billy Bigelow, but this time it could almost be a eulogy for Hunter S. Thompson:
What's the use of wond'ring
If he's good or if he's bad,
Or if you like the way he wears his hat?
Oh, what's the use of wond'ring
If he's good or if he's bad?
He's your feller and you love him,
That's all there is to that.
Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad?
He's your feller and you love him,
There's nothing more to say.