GABRIEL: We're at the Park View Diner in...what town are we in?
JILL: Fairview, I think....beautiful Fairview, New Jersey, which is neither fair, nor does it have a view.
GABRIEL: On Oscar Eve. And we've just seen BRIDE AND PREJUDICE, the Bollywood hybrid. So what did you think?
JILL: I think that if I had taken a lot of drugs in my youth I would have thought I was having a flashback. This is an attempt to make Bollywood palatable to American audience, and as a result it is neither Bollywood, nor was it a particularly good American audience movie. Parts of it are a lot of fun; the dance numbers that are in Hindi and Punjabi are excellent. As soon as the music becomes Americanized and the songs are sung in English; as soon as they leave India, it becomes sort of a bad Julia Roberts movie.
GABRIEL: Yes. I think you nailed a lot of it. It can't figure out whether it wants to sing the song in Hindi or English and it's kind of a metaphor for the whole movie feeling very cautious; proceeding with trepidation...it can't make up its mind how Bollywood it wants to be and how Hollywood it wants to be.
JILL: The problem with it trying to be Hollywood at all is that it's been done before...obviously...many many times, because it's Pride and Prejudice. I understand what [Gurinder] Chadha's trying to do, take a familiar property and add elements from a different culture to it and give Americans a kind of "tasting menu" of Bollywood. The problem is that there was already a movie a couple of years ago, Monsoon Wedding, which was pretty popular among American audiences, and played more widely than I think this one is going to.
GABRIEL: And had a more sophisticated sensibility.
JILL: And it was centered in its culture, and wasn't apologetic about its culture, and didn't even try to water it down all that much, and it worked a lot better. I don't think it was necessary to pander to the American audience as much as this movie does.
GABRIEL: This movie is keenly aware of what it's trying to do. In the dialogue, it's got a politic with Aishwarya Rai's character telling this American, "India has a lot to offer too." It might as well be the director talking to the audience. I think you've hit on something with Pride and Prejudice, though, Jane Austen is probably the most frequent classical author in recent years being transferred to Hollywood film. We are all familiar with Emma, not only from Emma, but also from Clueless and other films. We're familiar with Pride and Prejudice too -- in the last 10 years, there's been a TV version and a movie version and --
JILL: And Bridget Jones' Diary.
GABRIEL: Right. I think that we are acutely aware of the way this story works, and therefore the film sets up its premise in the first 5 minutes. Who's who, who's going to end up with who, and so the only rewards we get are how we're going to get there. We in the audience are way ahead of the movie. And those rewards are spotty at best in this film.
JILL: Part of the whole thing with Pride and Prejudice is that you know immediately that Darcy isn't the bad guy he's cut out to be. And you have to want to find out how they get there. When Darcy is Colin Firth, and he's just a stiff -- well, that's what Darcy is. He's stiff, and emotionally repressed, and all the rest of it. But he's not a boor and he's not an idiot. In this movie, he's a boor and he's an idiot. He's a cute idiot, but he's an idiot. Martin Henderson doesn't have the gravitas that this character needs. He's like a surfer boy in period clothes, and this girl is just too peppy, as one character calls her, to be that taken in by what is essentially a pretty cipher.
GABRIEL: I think the joy of Pride and Prejudice is that you're always ahead of Elizabeth Bennett in realizing that she will come to some kind of terms. I think Aish[warya Rai] is one of the most intriguing actresses in the world. She's absolutely gorgeous, and she CAN act. I think she's got a real firm grasp of the material, and how the comedy needs to work and how the music needs to work and the way the book scenes need to work.
JILL: She controls this movie.
GABRIEL: But the rest of the movie doesn't have that surety. The camera angles are -- it's not shot very well. There's this old axiom in musical theatre that you should only burst into song when spoken words can't convey the emotion anymore. That you feel so passionate about something that you must sing it.
JILL: But that's the knock on musical films in general, that it's people bursting into song for no reason at all. And that's what separates a good musical film from a bad one.
GABRIEL: But if you look at Chicago, or you look at Moulin Rouge, especially, or, to be perfectly honest, look at films like Lakshya, Lagaan, Kyun! Ho Gaya Na...Kal Ho Naa Ho -- these great Bollywood films where they MUST sing their feelings. It is a really passionate thing. In this musical, there's no real reason to sing "No Life Without Wife" -- this kind of 50's rockabilly number.
JILL: That was the sense I had watching that number; it was like watching "Bye Bye Birdie."
GABRIEL: And when they leave India, they quit singing until the end of the movie.
JILL: Except for some reason, there's like a 150-voice Harlem gospel choir on the beach at the Santa Monica pier
GABRIEL: In her head.
JILL: Now where she found, of all things, a gospel choir, I have no idea.
GABRIEL: Didn't you see it vanish at the end? She was imagining a choir.
JILL: But how was she imagining a clearly gospel choir? It just seemed a little incongruous. And here's the problem...the kind of silliness you get in Bollywood movies is fun, and it's not trying to be anything else. But there, it works, and here it just seems dumb. Because you have these very Bollywood conventions in this very American setting. At that point, the girl might as well be anybody.
GABRIEL: To me the best thing about Bollywood movies is that they are charming. The best Bollywood musicals, yes, they're corny; yes, they're based on stereotype and cliche, but they're charming and energetic, and this movie tries to replicate that, minus the charm. It just can't seem to get there for some reason. And my guess is it's because Gurinder Chadha, the writer and director, is not of the Bollywood culture and so she can't get the traditions of it across. I think she does marvelously with Bend it Like Beckham, and she's got a sense of what movies are about, but this is a very particular form she's trying to make a hybrid of, and kind of like Mira Nair, who made the lovely Monsoon Wedding, couldn't make Vanity Fair work when she tried to blend it with Bollywood touches. It's really tough. And I honestly think that Bollywood may have to be accepted on its own terms, and that Bollywood filmmakers, if they want American audiences to come, may have to sing and talk in English. But it still needs to be a product coming from Bollywood.
JILL: Well, I don't know if we're representative of an American audience, but for me, I find the musical numbers that are in English to be very stilted, because they're trying to fit these non-western musical tone forms into a western language, and it doesn't quite work. What happens in those pieces of music in this film is they bump up the rhythm section -- as Jerry Garcia once said, put the beat down where even white people can find it -- whereas in the beginning, the first dance number, it's very traditional, with the men and and the women, and it's all very seductive, and it portrays the sensuality of this kind of courtship ritual and culture that is missing from every other dance number in the film.
There's a number where the girls are walking down the street in this shopping plaza, and singing, and everyone in the village is singing around them, and that might as well have been West Side Story, because in English, the whole convention falls apart and it just seems preposterous.
GABRIEL: Yes, but maybe it doesn't have to. I think there are some great filmmakers working in India who could transform that. We've been very hard on the film, but there were things I liked a lot. It's got a great sense of scope and color and it captures all three of its locations -- England. Los Angeles, and India -- both Goa and Amritsar -- really gorgeously. It's got some very strong Indian performers especially in it. And it's got a sense of fun, that goes beyond chuckling out loud at things.
JILL: It's fun, and silly, and it's enjoyable, but there's a culture clash going on here, where it's like oil and water -- it doesn't quite mix. I have respect for what the director's trying to do here, but it doesn't jell the way it should. It's almost more annoying that it doesn't, because what you have is this very trite American, boy wants girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl film convention, and then you have all this exotic stuff going on, with the colors, and the saris, and the whole --
GABRIEL: Beautiful women, beautiful men...
JILL: ...and a sexuality that runs through the whole thing, which is so different from American tightass culture. And that's why the two don't really mix. And you want it to be...if you as an audience member, obviously we can, but I don't know if most American audiences can, if you can let yourself be carried by the color and the music and the corniness, you can get swept away into the Bollywood stuff without watering it down.
GABRIEL:Exactly. There are those moments, I don't know if you had them, when hey were dancing in the fountains, and the wedding scene, and you think "My God, how gorgeous is that shot....how beautiful is that?" I mean, it's outsize, its romantic, it's even corny, but it's breathtaking in its visual beauty and what it's trying to convey.
I think we should talk about some of the performances. We'll hold Aish for last. Naveen Andrews...
JILL: Oh....well...I mean, do we really have to say anything else? Is there anything else TO say?
GABRIEL: The first movie I ever saw him in was The English Patient. He's had this very odd career trajectory, and now he's an American television star. But here's a guy who -- I hate to say it -- if he weren't Indian, he'd be a classic leading man.
JILL: He has that same kind of Clive Owen thing going where when he's on screen, you can't look at anyone else. And it has nothing to do with his looks or handsomeness; because the other fellow who plays Darcy is very handsome in a conventional, American way. And you don't give a shit. But when Naveen Andrews is on screen, and this happens on Lost too, is that when he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off him. He just takes you and holds you in his gaze, right there on screen, and you can't let go till he leaves the scene.
GABRIEL: Absolutely. He is a really magnetic presence. I thought that in Kama Sutra, I thought that in The English Patient. I'm surprised he hasn't had more work.
JILL: Because he doesn't look like American guys. We were talking about this at home just this morning; that American audiences can't seem to handle seeing people who don't look like them, even in universal situations.
GABRIEL: I guess that's it. We were talking earlier about the roles of older Indian women in cinema, and I really think the disapproving Indian mother is becoming one of the most hackneyed cliches in modern cinema. You brought up that Italian mothers and Jewish mothers are like that too, but you don't see that in movies anymore.
JILL: You don't see it as much anymore. You never really saw the Italian mother all that much, but this is archetypal Jewish mother stuff. It surprised me, the two really stereotyped characters in this film, how they felt very Jewish to me, which is the mother trying to marry off the daughters to the rich guy; this is a very American Jewish thing. Your daughter should make a good marriage. It's more under the surface than it used to be. You used to see this stereotype a lot in movies in the 60's and 70's, when it was all still up there. Now everyone's assimilated, so no one wants to see that stereotype in the movies anymore, though it's interesting that you DO still see it in Israeli films like Late Marriage and The Holy Land. And the other stereotype was the Indian guy from California. He's some distant relative by marriage -- machetaynisteh, in Yiddish -- of Lalita's (Aish's character) family.
GABRIEL: The materialistic guy.
JILL: It isn't enough that he's materialistic, he has to be a buffoon. He's like an expatriate Punjabi Ali G. He has this big, hooked nose, which was kind of unnecessary, and the gold chains, and the tasteless clothes, and the worship of "stuff" and all the rest. If this was a Jewish character, the ADL would be up in arms.
GABRIEL: When you realize that this actor (Nitin Ganatra), who's very talented at playing the buffoon, was cast and directed by the Indian director to be this way...first, she doesn't trust the audience to realize he's not the right husband. But there's this troubling sense of what the perceptions of Indians in the US are in India, and that cultural sense -- I would say that I've seen a few Bollywood set partially in NYC, and there's this sense that Indians who have left India have somehow gotten dumber and more capitalistic -- I just find it troubling to see...
JILL: It also tells you something how they think of American culture. Because let's face it, this is American culture, the big closet, and the tub with the jets, and the McMansion in the gated community. There's a certain contempt for that American level of materialism, for all that India is being touted as this big growth area.
GABRIEL: I just felt it was so obvious and so overblown and so unnecessary, that she was really using a sledgehammer where it wasn't necessary to get the feeling across.
JILL: The character didn't need to be THIS unattractive.
GABRIEL: Whereas Darcy, in this film an American character, is forgiven for his capitalistic ways by the end of the movie.
JILL: Well, he's portrayed as a reluctant capitalist, but he isn't terribly reluctant. The problem with him is that there's nothing attractive about this guy other than his looks. He's a mama's boy. He's weak. And when she spends time with him, what does he do? He shows her a good time via a rich guy's toys -- he takes her up in a helicopter, he does all these things that he couldn't do without money.
GABRIEL: Don't you think that comes from Pride
and Prejudice as well? I remember reading Pride
and Prejudice and thinking, "You've got to
be kidding me. You mean she ends up with Darcy?"
The way you described him earlier, that he's a stiff
-- for some reason, there's some kind of romantic
attraction to that from women.
JILL: Oh, yeah. It's an "I will be the one to bring him out" thing. It's a variation on the rescue fantasy, where the guy is this wounded soul, and the girl thinks "I will be the one to heal those wounds." You see it in women with low self-esteem, who want to feel special, and if they can break through this aloof, or even cruel, exterior, it will make them special.
GABRIEL: But Aish's character in this doesn't need to do this. She's incredible self-realized.
JILL: So is Elizabeth Bennett. So for all that this story has been done a million times, it still doesn't really work. It taps into that kind of romance novel hero. He's always sort of distant and just a bit cruel. The nice guy never gets the girl in literature.
GABRIEL: That's all fine in the 1700's when we have these very prescribed gender roles, and a world that backs it up. But this is a woman who wants to go to college, and have a life of her own, and sings about how she doesn't need a man. It rings really false to me.
JILL: But then she sings about how she really wants romance. If she's going to be a convention of romantic literature, it doesn't really work both ways. The problem is that women have bought this bullshit for a million years. It's the female porn business. You're this independent spirit, but sooner or later you'll encounter this tormented soul, and you will be the one to tap his whatever is there, and he will sweep you off your feet and all of this will change. And as women get more independent, what they demand of this Harlequin hero has been escalated to the point where it's ridiculous, and nobody can meet it. But they still eat this stuff up, and I think the reason is because it's in a setting where it's not necessary.
GABRIEL: But Aish makes it work. You totally believe she's her own woman AND waiting to be swept off her feet --even as she condemns her friend for marrying for money's sake. She's going to marry a hotel magnate? Pot, meet kettle. I think she's an actress who makes that work.
But what do you think she should do next? If she's really going to succeed where so many actresses have failed -- a non-American actress who succeeds on the world stage, what does she do now?
JILL:That's a tough one, because she's got that face. What does someone who looks like that do?
GABRIEL: You mean she's gorgeous? If she's Charlize Theron, she does an ugly role and wins an Oscar.
JILL: I can't see this one doing that. I mean, she's SO multi-talented. One of the problems with multi-talented people is the industry doesn't know what to do with them.
GABRIEL: But if she's Gong Li, she does The Chinese Box with Jeremy Irons and it flops and she goes back into obscurity.
JILL:Here's what someone will do to capitalize on her. They will put her in a movie where she has to wear something like a leather catsuit, and they'll turn her into Carrie-Anne Moss in the Matrix movie. So they can give her action to do and still look good. I can't see the American film industry doing anything else with her
GABRIEL: I think the American film industry got very burned with Penelope Cruz. They cast her in All the Pretty Horses, and in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, they cast her as this big, dramatic romantic lead, and this may make some readers mad, but I don't think she's a very good actress. What happened was that the cultural difference is why the movies didn't work, but she's also not much of a screen actress. But the result is going to be that I don't think anyone's going to give Aish the Great American Movie.
JILL: And she has a name no one can pronounce.
GABRIEL: Well, she solved that; most people will call her Aish, which is fine. She's definitely the most famous actress in the world, but if I'm her agent, and the goal is to break her into a world market, how do I do that now? And it's going to be tough. And she doesn't have a lot of time. She's got to be 30.
JILL: Is she? She doesn't look it. But you're right. she doesn't have a lot of time. She has maybe two years, then three to be on top. It's sad, but true.
GABRIEL: The last thing to talk about is the casting of Marsha Mason. I think it was hilariously fabulous. Marsha is so good that that kind of role. It's good to see Marsha Mason working, which is all I want to say. The goodbye girl in the Bollywood film.
JILL: So, to sum it up? did we hash this one to death? What do we say about BRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Rent the Jennifer Ehle version instead?
GABRIEL: Well, I think it's an honorable failure. Not even a failure so much; I think it's got moments, it's got performances to recommend, but overall they haven't figured out how to create the magic of Bollywood and put it in a form the US market can deal with.