Adapting literary texts into films, often disregarded as a secondary activity, is a crucial process that requires the effort and time equal to that of creative writing. An adaptation’s success depends on its ability to amalgamate the gist of the literary text and the necessities of a visionary medium, without the objective of the adaptation getting compromised. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is adapted into an Indian Bride and Prejudice by Gurinder Chadha in such a manner that the author’s true intentions are juxtaposed. Relocated to the 21st century Amritsar, the movie portrays a set of characters, Indian in appearance, but western in action. A far cry from the lives of Indians of that period, the movie visualizes an ‘imaginary realm’ which at once alienates itself from 21st century India and 19th century England. Critical readings have mostly shared the observation that the film, Bride and Prejudice does justice to the literary text, but this paper seeks to problematize this predominant critical perception.
Ariane Hudelet, in The Cinematic Jane Austen: Essays on the Filmic Sensibility of the Novels (2009) argues that: The function of cinema and television in providing access to literary works today cannot be ignored. Jane Austen, in this regard, occupies a very special position, since her works have always called for recreation, interpretation, performance, […] a phenomenon that has been increased tremendously by the plethora of cinematic adaptations since the 1990s. (as cited in Chapter Three: Pride and Prejudice, n.d, pp.83)
The Austen mania that ruled the minds then, continues even today. Among the myriad adaptations of the Austen novels, many have tampered with the beauty and seriousness of the original texts. The main problem stems from the common notion that adaptation of literary texts to films is a secondary activity. The truth that the screenplay writing is a crucial process that requires the time and effort equal to creative writing is neglected often. Balazs, in his collection of essays, ‘Theory of the Film: Character and Growth of a New Art’ conveys the idea of the film script being a new literary form which is produced by its writer by adopting and deleting elements at his will from the ‘raw material’ or the ‘source text’. According to him, the diligence of the screenplay writer in amalgamating the gist of the source text (which includes its formal and thematic design) with the new technology and aesthetic design gives birth to a new entity, an adaptation. Thus, the success of this new entity, the adaptation is a complicated area of concern that requires the lining up of many factors, both linguistic and cinematic favorably.
Evaluating an adaptation by tracing the roots of the source text in it is an erroneous method of analysis. An adaptation and its degree of fidelity to the source text give rise to different categories of adaptations, mainly transposition, commentary and analogy. A transposition exhibits maximum fidelity to the source text while the commentary contains minor changes made by the filmmaker to suit his needs. Analogy, on the other hand utilizes the plot of the source text as pillars on which a new piece of art is constructed. In an analogous adaptation, the writer very frequently exploits his immense liberty to transport the whole tale into a different place and time. Hence, the degree of adherence to or divergence from the source text is not a right parameter to evaluate an adaptation. George Bluestone in his work, Novels into Film (1957) states that:
Changes are inevitable the moment one abandons the linguistic for the visual medium. […]. The end products of novel and film represents different aesthetic genera, as different from each other as ballet is from architecture. The film becomes a different thing in the same sense that a historical painting becomes a different thing from the historical event which it illustrates. (as cited in Chapter Three: Pride and Prejudice, n.d, pp. 84)
A heated debate on the utilization of the texts of the literary canon for adaptation has been going on for ages. A possible justification for this was provided by Geraghty who claims the choice to be logical as it is already” known and has been proved to work”. Samuel Marx, speaks for adaptations and the changes made to the original texts while adapting. He states that:
I do not see why they (people who are going to adapt books) need to be that respectful of material that was written for the mind of the reader, not for movie producers who want to appeal to the eyes and ears of a movie audience. Because of the change in audience, other changes must be made. (as cited in Chapter Three: Pride and Prejudice, n.d, pp.84)
A successful adaptation of a literary text into other forms of media happens only if the director is able to remould the text to suit the needs of the medium of transfer and its possible audience. This herculean task is where most of the adaptations fail bitterly. The best example would be the Indian film adaptation of the novel Pride and Prejudice called Bride and Prejudice by Gurindher Chadha.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice depicts the 1813 British regency with ideal depiction of the manners, way of life, approach to marriage and money of the people during the period. The novel revolves around the Bennet family, where Mrs. Bennett is desperate to get her five daughters married off to the best suitors. The events where Mr. Bingely easily falls for Jane, while Elizabeth and Darcy find faults with each other from the beginning, supplements the further development of the plot. The plot moves with a lot of impeding conflicts and confusions, at the end of which the union of Bingely and Jane and Elizabeth and Darcy takes places.
Relocated to the 21st century Amritsar, the movie Bride and Prejudice, an analogic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice portrays a set of characters, Indian in appearance, but western in action. A far cry from the lives of the Indians of that period, the movie visualizes an “imaginary realm” which at once alienates itself from 21st century India and 19th century England.
The movie, on its release ushered in a hail of comments both positive and negative. Marion Gymnich states that: The film Bride and Prejudice (2004) offers another ‘cultural Translation’ of Austen’s text, situating the romance in contemporary India and using various elements characteristic of the tradition of ‘Bollywood’ cinema including colourful Indian costumes, dance scenes and singing. (Mathur,2007)
Taran Adarsh in a review about the film describes it as focusing on the “East meets the West” concept. According to him the film “marries a characteristically English saga (Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) with classic Bollywood format “transforming corsets to saris, … the Bennetts to the Bakshis and … pianos to bhangra beats” (Mathur, 2007).
According to Gurindher Chadha, Bride and Prejudice is a “complete Hindi movie” and her statement holds true to an extent as the film employs a cinematic language familiar to the Indian audience by diligently incorporating the typical “masala” narrative pattern complete with drama, comedy, tragedy and dance. This close association of the movie Bride and Prejudice with the cinema of Manoj Kapoor , Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra is reiterated by the reviewer, Taran Adarsh through his statement that “the songs and some sequences look straight out of a Hindi film”(Mathur,2007).
This peculiar yoking together of the Indian popular culture and a British canonical text stirred a hornets’ nest of dispute and displeasure. Gautam Bhaskaran in his review for The Hindu asks as to “why this talented director has reduced Jane Austen’s creation to a Bollywood masala film”(Mathur,2007).
Peter Sobczynski, describes the movie as “a typically overstuffed affair that is so eager to please that you almost begin to feel bad about pointing out its shortcomings, even though they are far too apparent to simply overlook, starting with the basic premise itself”(Sobcynski, 2005). Sobcynski further relegates the movie by calling it “unendurable” if not for the presence of Aishwarya Rai as Lalita Bakshi(Indian counterpart of Elizabeth Bennet).
This dissension concerning the worth of a film is typical as nothing interesting is ever one- sided. Bride and Prejudice may seem like a successful adaptation if one were to evaluate it on its capability to meet the technical and theatrical requirements of adaptation. The movie’s inability to create a sense of association either in the minds of Indian or British audience reveals the loopholes of cultural adaptation. In order to fulfill the objective of the paper, the movie’s shortcomings that prevented it from becoming either a faithful analogical adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Bollywood musical needs to be pointed out.
The pieces of the puzzle refuse to fit together from the start. The character of Mr. William Darcy pronounces this to an extent. The air of superiority projected by the Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is drastically altered when it comes to the Darcy in the Indian adaptation Bride and Prejudice. Gurinder Chadha presents Darcy as a foreigner intimidated by the customs and traditions of India. At the beginning of the film one gets to see a claustrophobic Darcy completely baffled about an alien land called India that he asks Balraj “Jesus, Balraj, where the hell have you brought me?”
A weak being standing aside Mr.Balraj’s sister is nowhere similar to the man that Mrs. Bennet describes in the novel Pride and Prejudice. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice was: … a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man” (Austen, 1813).
Martin Henderson’s role as Darcy in the film creates a confusion as one cannot decide whether to evaluate him from the benchmark set by the character of the novel Pride and Prejudice or not. Being an analogous adaptation the screenplay writer has the liberty to alter and eliminate characters as well as their traits. However, on evaluating either way, the character of Darcy in Bride and Prejudice appears as a blemish that mars an otherwise tolerable film. Peter Sobsynski, in his review of the film comments that: “The biggest flaw is that Martin Henderson, who portrays Will Darcy, the stiff-upper-lip who eventually wins the heart of our heroine, turns in one of the most spectacularly awful and unappealing performances in recent memory.
The later sequences in the film fail to project a proud- turned- charismatic Darcy for whom Lalita falls madly. While the heroine, Lalita had all the qualities needed for a man to fall for her, Darcy didn’t even have a few to his credit. Throughout the film, he reminds one of a “comical Romeo” desperately trying to get Lalita’s attention, in contrast to the Darcy in Pride and Prejudice who made Elizabeth fall for him with his wits. The way he awkwardly gazes at Lalita during the Gharba night makes him closer to a buffoon rather than to a hero of a film. He is torn between courtesy and his sense of alienation and not between courtesy and pride like the Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.
The relationship between Darcy and Lalita in Bride and Prejudice is an unconvincing one in comparison with the Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s in Pride and Prejudice. The titular reference about their initial Pride and Prejudice had its resonance throughout the novel. While Elizabeth had a critical mind, Darcy was of the snobbish and arrogant kind which he blames upon his parents, “who thought good themselves…. allowed, encouraged and almost taught me (him) to be selfish and overbearing”(Austen, 1813). The novel presents the unfurling of their love as a gradual effect following the course of events. The movie, on the other hand depicts their relationship as a rather abrupt and immediate one. Darcy and Elizabeth, a couple truly ahead of their time finds love debating over issues of societal relevance. Engaged in a plethora of debates, Darcy and Elizabeth knew how to outdo the other in their verbal duels. In the movie Bride and Prejudice, one can see a weak and meek Darcy fighting tooth and nail to give a reasonable response to the cold, yet rational arguments of Lalita. The scene at Goa is just one of the numerous occasions where one could see a vulnerable Darcy pinned down by the well founded Lalita.
“Lalita said: I’m sure you think India’s beneath you
Darcy: If I really thought that, then why would I be thinking about buying this place
Lalita: You think this is India?
Darcy: Well, don’t you wanna see more investment, more jobs?
Lalita: Yes, but who does it really benefit? You want people to come to India without having to deal with Indians.
Darcy: That’s good. Remind me to add that to the tourism brochure.
Lalita: Isn’t that what all tourists want here? -star comfort with a bit of culture thrown in? I don’t want you turning India into a theme park. I thought we got rid of imperialists like you.
Darcy: I’m not British. I’m American.
Lalita: Exactly.” (Chadha & Berges, 2004)
The visible power politics at play, from the beginning of the movie makes one hard to believe that their relationship eventually culminated in a deep love affair. This very fact loosens the thread of credibility and pokes in an element of abruptness further nudging the movie towards an ‘imaginary realm’. Moreover, the movie doesn’t focus much on the relationship of Jaya and Balraj, as there isn’t much talk between them and nothing guarantees the great future of their marital life, except the fact that Jaya is meek and submissive.
Chadha’s modernization of a traditional Indian family has gone beyond the line, thus pushing the film further into an imaginary realm. Chadha’s Indian characters are ghosts of their British counterparts. They clad themselves in Indian clothing and exhibit a British sensibility quite unconsciously. This makes them at once alienated from the 21st century India and 19th century England. On viewing the movie one gets convinced of the amount of time Chadha has spent in relocating the events of the novel. “ While the Bennetts, Bingelys and Darcy negotiate the relationship between marriage, money and social status in an England transformed by the rise of capitalism, the Bakshis, Balraj and Darcy the same task in a India transformed by corporate globalisation”(Mathur) . While it is evident that Chadha has indeed used her liberty as a scriptwriter in this regard, she has neglected many areas unconsciously. Although Chadha’s characters possess the charm and vitality of their British counterparts, they possess nothing that would exhibit their Indian sensibility.
One of the many instances in the movie that would prove this lack of Indian sensibility occurs when Balraj seeks permission from Mr.Bakshi to take Jaya to Goa.
“Mr. Bakshi : Mr Balraj, I am not sure if it would be appropriate to let Jaya go on her own.
Mr.Balraj: Oh, I understand
Mrs.Bakshi: Don’t be silly, dear. So kind of you to invite Jaya.” (Chadha and Berges, 2004)
Here, while Mr.Bakshi, being the meek yet responsible father kindly refuses to let Jaya go with Balraj Mrs. Bakshi, sees this as an opportunity for Jaya to lure Balraj. Chadha presents an Indian mother who would go to the extent of compelling her husband to let their daughter go with a man of wealth to a place notorious for licentiousness in India. This paradoxical behavior of the so called ‘Indian mother’ reaches its climax when she expresses her obscene motive shamelessly to her husband.
“Mrs. Bakshi: Have you gone crazy, old man? This is Jaya’s chance to win him once and for all. And he’ll get to see her in a swimsuit.” (Chadha &Berges, 2004)
Indians and their taboo about sex is an age old saga that persists even today. In an e-article published by Abhilasha Parwa, she talks about how Indian women struggle for sexual freedom even in 2013. In a country which considers sex before marriage the greatest taboo, Chadha’s characterization of the Indian society is a far cry from reality. This degree of hybridity exhibited by the characters in the movie pushed the movie further into an ‘imaginary realm’.
On reviewing an adaptation, one might find a certain addition or exclusion diminishing it’s the beauty. The film Bride and Prejudice is a victim of this kind of unwanted exclusion and inclusion. A good number of songs in the movie added with an aim to establish their relation with Bollywood musicals and Opera does otherwise. These songs mimicking Bollywood songs and Operas trivialize the adaptation by taking it below the benchmark set by its source text, Pride and Prejudice. The song on India in which Ashanti,the famous American singer, dancer and actress makes a cameo appearance seems like a mere appendage to the plot rather than an important inclusion where one gets to know of the richness and diversity of India. The song where the three girls along with the whole street sing also makes the same impact.
The idea of turning a Jane Austen classic into a Bollywood musical replaces the aesthetic seriousness of the novel with an air of grandeur and pomp of a filmy drama. Suchitra Mathur in her article from British “Pride” to Indian “Bride” states that” The problem, according to the Indian reviewers, lies not in the idea of an Indian adaptation, but in the choice of genre, in the devaluation of the “master” text’s cultural currency by associating it with the populist “masala” formula of Bollywood”(Mathur,2007). Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice seems like too weak an opponent to compete with the Austenian Pride and Prejudice, complete with an in-depth psychological characterization. A melodramatic set of people interacting with a weak, lifeless Darcy is what Bride and Prejudice is about.
- Austen, Jane. (1813) Pride and Prejudice. United Kingdom. T. Egerton, Whitehall Chadha, Gurinder & Berges, Paul.(2004). Bride and Prejudice. Retrieved from http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/b/bride-and-prejudice-script-transcript.html
- “CHAPTER THREE Pride and Prejudice : HOLLYWOOD to BOLLYWOOD”. Shodhganga, 81-113. Retrieved from http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/37785/9/09_chapter%203.pdf
- “Chapter III THEORIES OF ADAPTATION: NOVEL TO FILM”.Shodhganga,1-62. Retrieved from http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/29149/9/09_chapter
- Mathur, Suchitra. “From British “Pride’ to Indian “Bride’ Mapping the contours of a Globalised (Post?) Colonialism’. M/C Journals, Volume No 10. Retrieved from http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0705/06-mathur.php
- Nayar,Deepak (Producer), & Chadha, Gurinder(Director). 2004 Bride and Prejudice (Motion Picture). India. Pathé Purwar, Abhilasha .(2013, June 17). Sex Before Marriage: The Great Taboo. Retrieved from https://www.womensweb.in/articles/sexuality-in-indian-women/
- Sobczynski, Peter(2005,November 2) . “Bride and Prejudice’ (Review of the movie Bride and Prejudice). Efilmcritic.com. Retrieved from http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11131&reviewer=389