Bride and Prejudice: A Bollywood Comedy of Manners

Article excerpt

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (3). The celebrated first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice sets up the courtship narrative and class issues that permeate the novel and also provides an example of the "epigrammatism" that the author acknowledges as one of her text's distinguishing-and indeed, most endearing-features (Jane Austen's Letters 203). "Hollywood meets Hollywood [...] and it's a perfect match" (Bride). The tagline for Gurinder Chadha's 2004 film Bride and Prejudice sets up a love story and foreshadows the cultural conflict that will ensue. Both lines aptly characterize their respective texts, yet they are also curiously self-referential. Austen's "truth universally acknowledged" questions the blurring of true and false/ reality and fiction in the novel itself and the genre in general. The "Hollywood meets Hollywood" tagline establishes Bride and Prejudice as the site of contact between two conflicting cultures as well as two disparate film industries and conceptions of media. Thus, within the context of Austen studies and Bolly wood film history, Bride and Prejudice can be viewed as a film that integrates two well-suited partners-the Bollywood form and Austen's comedy of manners-to both preserve and update the cultural critique of the original.

One of the still-unresolved issues in the emerging field of adaptation studies, argues Tom Leitch in 'Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory," concerns how to address the multiple acts of adaptation that take place within any particular work. Leitch writes:

Because films depend on screenplays which in turn often depend on literary source material, in fact, they are doubly performative. Actors and actresses are translating into performance a written script which is itself an adaptation of a prior literary source, with the important difference that the script is a performance text-a text that requires interpretation first by its performers and then by its audience for completion-whereas a literary text requires only interpretation by its readers. (150)

As Leitch points out, direct communication from writer to reader-a given in most studies of literary reception-is complicated by the mediation first by a screenplay and then by the actors' performance of that screenplay, thereby imposing two layers of adaptation between the audience and the original source. This is certainly the case with Bride and Prejudice-the screenplay by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges renders Austen's "light and bright and sparkling" novel through the lens of Bombay Cinema, combining two well-defined forms in "a perfect match" (Jane Austen's Letters 203). In addition, the different (and sometimes conflicting) acting styles of British, American, and Indian performers, according to Chadha's film commentary, give an energetic and emotional charge to the film. Nonetheless, Chadha preserves the comedic nature of Austen's source material, which allows the film to undercut certain conventions of the Bollywood form, while using that very form to convey the novel's commentary on class, culture, and gender to a contemporary audience.

Any film entering the heavily populated field of Austen adaptations is confronted with the task of re-presenting an early-nineteenth-century text to a contemporary audience; and crossing continents, as Chadha does in Bride and Prejudice, further complicates this act of re-presentation. Unlike Raji í Menon's 2000 film / Have Found It, which maps Austen's Sense and Sensibility directly onto die South Indian landscape with minimal appearance of Western characters and maximum appearance of rain-drenched lovers, Chadha's film is a hybrid, exacerbating the problems of adapting a novel by blending Hollywood and Bollywood cinema in so doing. The film's hybridity encourages audiences, both Western and non-Western (for which slightly different versions were released), to question their expectations for films and for adaptations. …