About a year ago, I wrote a blog post comparing Hollywood vs. Bollywood interpretations of supermen. That project amused me so much, I thought I’d try comparing some other Hollywood vs. Bollywood movies on similar themes, intending, as I mentioned at the end of that post, to pit the 2005 Hollywood Pride & Prejudice against the 2004 Bollywood Bride & Prejudice. As of about two weeks ago, I finally got around to it. Given the seriousness of some of our more recent posts, it’s probably about time to do something fluffy. It is summer, after all.
Anyway, while Geek Buffet’s very own co-author akdmyers (otherwise know as Ann) was visiting me, we watched both movies back to back. To get a feel for a more traditional interpretation of the book, we watched the Hollywood version first. We will leave aside arguments about whether or not this version paled in comparison to the BBC mini-series, because let’s face it, this version is only 2 hours long, and they had to make some editorial decisions the BBC was not faced with. (We shall also ignore the issue of whether the lack of Colin Firth invalidates the new version’s worth altogether. The not-Colin-Firth-iness of the new actor wears off very quickly, I promise.)
The Hollywood version sticks fairly close to the book, particularly in spirit. The biggest differences I felt between the book and movie were some of the distinctly Hollywood-esque touches that rendered the gentry even more grandiose than they were portrayed originally. Not for Hollywood to be content with merely a portrait of Darcy hanging in the gallery of his family home for Elizabeth to fall in love with; no, no, let’s have a white marble bust! With lots of other museum-like naked statuary around it! Excellent. And they managed to give Lady Catherine more dignity than she deserved simply by having her played by Dame Judy Dench.
These are clearly very minor issues. The other characters were fairly spot-on. Lizzy was cheerful, playfully sarcastic, and deeply concerned about her sister. Jane was demure and kind. Lydia and Kitty were insufferably giggly and irritating; Mary was quite understatedly the misfit prude. Mrs. Bennet is extremely annoying, loud, flighty, inappropriate, and shallow. Mr. Bennet was perhaps portrayed in a more caring manner than he was originally written, but that hardly detracted. Mr. Bingley looks exactly the way a person with his name and disposition should, ie, perpetually happy, and his sister is appropriately condescending and snobby. Mr. Collins is insufferably boorish and monologue-y. Mr. Wickham comes across as smooth, suave, and looks a great deal like a poor (wo)man’s Orlando Bloom. And Mr. Darcy, of course, is socially stilted his an intriguing, endearing, handsome way.
I think that the changes the writers had to make, in order fit the year’s worth of events into two hours, worked well. For example, Elizabeth first sees Darcy acting affectionate towards his sister during their accidental meeting while touring his home. She is later brought to meet the sister at the Darcy home, rather than having them come to her in the nearby inn where she is staying with her aunt and uncle. However inappropriate this might have been for the time period, it manages to convey to us as modern viewers the essential information, strongly and quickly, about Darcy’s capacity for affection and how much he wants Elizabeth and Georgiana to get along. The story manages to hit pretty much all the high points of the book anyway.
So, in short, it was a good, fairly accurate movie translation of the book. This perhaps makes its comparison to Bride & Prejudice not as parallel as the Superman Returns vs. Krrish comparison was, because Bride & Prejudice is a modern day adaptation, in addition to being a Bollywood Indian interpretation of the story. Ah, well. All the more to contrast!
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the particularly Bollywood elements, meaning the obligatory singing and dancing scenes, that I felt like made this a weaker version of the story. I was expecting those scenes, and while they did give the movie a very light air of silliness, much like the older musicals (Grease, etc.) the director said she was trying to evoke, as opposed to the usual, more grave air of a British period piece. I also think they did a pretty good job translating most of the main characters, the Bakshi (Bennet) family and the “Bingley” siblings in particular. And Mr. Kholi (Mr. Collins) is certainly still very annoying.
Instead, I think what made the story translate less well was the modernization elements. The necessity of the daughters’ marriages wasn’t as obvious, although the mother does allude to the difficulty of providing so many dowries (which I believe is sort of illegal now?). I think they could have done more to emphasize how prevalent the “overseas bride” phenomenon is in India. I got the impression that it is very common, but there was no real explanation as to why that wasn’t tied up with the caricature of Mr. Kholi, which made it hard to tell how prevalent or serious such attitudes are in the Indian communities of America and Britain. In addition, they never explain why the Indian women would want to be overseas brides for these men who are apparently seeking “traditional girls,” other than the prospect of more wealth. Being a Bollywood movie, their town and home in India didn’t really look all that poor, certainly not poor enough to be a convincing reason for the Bakshi girls to jump at the chance to move. Their mother clearly reveres Britain in particular, but it really just didn’t come across as a strong enough societal expectation to be a driving force.
Then again, maybe I just don’t watch enough Bollywood, and this is intended to simply be assumed as background knowledge in the audience. However, I didn’t know that much about the Regency era in British history either, and I felt the pressure for the Bennet sisters to marry, and marry well, much more keenly. Maybe this would be a problem for any modern adaptation, though, since the Regency era gentleman’s daughters had no recourse to support themselves through work, whereas we would expect the normal modern woman to be allowed to have a job.
I also had an issue with the portrayal of Mr. Darcy. In this case, they tried to replace his social awkwardness with cross-cultural insensitivity. Certainly, in the original first encounter between Elizabeth and Darcy, he comes across as kind of a jerk, but he didn’t come across as a completely intolerant snobby bigot. The Bollywood Mr. Darcy is a very wealthy American, and immediately proves himself the very stereotype of a bad American tourist by insulting Indian wedding customs and dancing styles in conversation with Lalita (Elizabeth) at the wedding of one of his host’s friends. Compare this to the way the original Mr. Darcy only backhandedly insulted Lizzy by not finding her pretty enough at their first meeting. He was haughty, socially inept, and mildly insulting, but he wasn’t a total ass. One could find some room to excuse him, especially knowing what was to come. The American Darcy is just irritating and unpleasant, and it takes a lot more of the movie to start considering him even a halfway decent human being.
An interesting way to sum up some of the difference in attitude I see between the two films is that the Hollywood version stresses more of the faults in the characters due to pride, whereas the Bollywood version seems to be playing more on characters defined by prejudice. I, at least, was far more sympathetic to the former characters, and a bit put off by the latter ones, even the ones I was supposed to like.
-posted by Dana