In the early 2000s, representation in forms of films of the individuals of the East in mainstream media was limited. There was no such portrayal in the media that represented the South Asians accurate. It always followed the stereotypes of the West. When I heard that a movie called Bride and Prejudice (by Gurinder Chadha) with Aishwarya Rai was on its way to the theatres, I could not contain my enthusiasm. In fact, I have watched it several times since its’ release in 2004. It was the perfect rom-com for a teenage south Asian girl living in Canada.
Bride and Prejudice is a Bollywood take on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It has all the components of having the typical masala film. Love, Betrayal, Misunderstandings, Fights and etc. This used to be one of my favorite films, but I never realized how troublesome it was. As a teenager, many of the subtle references and situations in the film passed by me and I never questioned their problematic narratives. However, after a recent viewing of the film It was brought to my attention that although it was trying to fight the stereotypes of “Indians,” it was placing more emphasis on the narrative to turn it into a neatly tied romantic comedy.
The beginning of the film starts out to be promising because we not only see the countryside of India but we see a modern woman, working the in the field, which was typically a man’s job at that time. This scene lasted less than 20 seconds but it showed the prosperity in the ideals of the typical Indian family. The premise of the movie was to showcase a love story that would be international and contemporary, that would be joining two Although, it does not last long because the audience is diluted with unrealistic thoughts and ideas about Indians living in India. These generalizations create misconceptions for the audience.
This thought that in every Indian wedding, everyone just magically burst into a choreographed song and dance act is misleading. As South Asians, we have this connection with music and dance that are unlike any other cultures. Which is why it is integral to incorporate it into the ceremonies. But this idea that the spontaneous sing and song fiasco occurs happens to give a fairy tale like allure to Indian wedding ceremonies further defeating the purpose of portraying the population accurately.
The far-fetched storytelling did not end there, it went against all odds and portrayed mother, Mrs. Bakshi, to be a money and status hungry individual wanting to get her daughters married off to respectable and wealthy men. She goes to several lengths to ensure that they get a proposal from the men; letting her daughter go on a trip with the man, inviting him for dinner and boasting her daughter’s physical characteristics. All mothers want the best life for their children, but this does not mean that they will try to sell them to the highest bidder and parade them as products rather than actual humans. This portrayal of Mrs. Bakshi was a generalization of all the mothers in the film, which is troubling because now it is all that they see.
Arranged marriages were another topic that was brought upon in the film. The idea that all Indian men from the West are rich, clumsy and pretentious, paints an unfavorable image of the South Asians abroad. This makes it seem that not only are Indian money hungry but they pompous à la max.
Stereotyping of the communities is perhaps the main problem in the film. The generalization of rich westerners, western hippies, and overgeneralization of what the Western people thought about India, and Indians as a whole. As Mrs. Bakshi, states as soon as she sees Wickham, a traveler, she does not want “hippies” in a house filled with unmarried girls, yet she had no problem sending her daughters on a trip alone with strangers because she sought a proposal for Jaya. Darcy also had his fair share of generalizations, according to him, India is a nation filled with poverty and lacks basic standards of living. Here I invite you to analyze the following exchange between Lalita and Darcy about what each’s thought of what the other beliefs are about the “real” India.
Did you get goosebumps? I sure did. This scene was my favorite in the whole film. It brought about all the stereotypes of the Indians and threw it in the face of the “imperialist.” However, it did have some faults, I believe this situation could have been handled in a much calm and civilized manner, but the animosity and eventual physical attraction between Lalita and Darcy lead to such a heated debate.
Despite the hatred that Lalita shared for Darcy and others much like him, her attraction to men of another culture is eminent from the start of the film. The fascination with the west of the east still persists to this day. This goes beyond all that she had preached throughout the film about authenticity and her love for her country. She always mentioned that she cannot stray away from her home and family but all the while is drawn to unknown and foreign.
All things considered, if you are able to overlook the discrepancies given the narrative of the Indians and the grandiosity of the characters, you might find yourself to be enjoying it quite a bit.