Every so often, the unseen managers of the galaxy bestow on us mere mortals a vision of rare incongruous beauty: a solar eclipse, a streaking comet, a shooting star, Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai happily riding a tractor. Treasured moments from the golden age of the Soviet musical may dance in stricken viewers’ heads, but Bride and Prejudice is of course an update of Jane Austen’s marriage comedy adapted to the B-wood commandments, including irregularly scheduled song-and-dance interludes, kaleidoscopically hued art design, and strictly no kissing on the lips.
Rai is Lalita Bakshi, the most outspoken and stouthearted among several marriageable daughters of an unerringly wonderful dad and a shrill, meddlesome mom (a parental schema familiar from Gurinder Chadha’s previous film, Bend It Like Beckham). Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), scion of a Hilton-like family, arrives in town aiming to plunk down a luxury hotel in modest Amritsar—”Hicksville, India,” as the spoiled brat rechristens the Bakshi family seat. As in any classical rom-com, Lalita and Will’s instant mutual loathing predicts a lifetime of passionate compatibility, as when Will asks the lady to dance at a wedding and sweetens the deal with a scooping motion of his filthy-rich American groin.
The alluring snob Darcy is a tough, contradictory role: Colin Firth pulled it off in the BBC treatment of Pride and Prejudice and the first Bridget Jones film through an unshakably deadpan inscrutability, but the uneasy Henderson is cut from the John Corbett mold of bland requisite love interest. What does Lalita see in him—oh, right, we forgot. Money can’t buy happiness, but as Bride and Prejudice teaches us, it can get patience in bulk from a smart young woman of a practical mind-set.