Issue One: Diasporic Film Production in Great Britain: Bride and Prejudice (Chadha, 2002)

Bollywood in India functions as a popular genre cinema in its use of melodrama and musical romance, which has positioned it as a cinematic hegemony that in terms of production and audience numbers is superior to Hollywood. It has developed into a successful diasporic cinema, due to the Indian diasporas throughout the world, extending its popularity to a global rather than local interface. Bollywood is heavily reliant upon the Mascala genre, which refers to an amalgamation of the genres of action, romance and the musical. It is a formula that is constructed by a convergence of genre influences and is loaded with glamour and stars in order to reinforce its spectacular nature. The spectacle of the Mascala experience is popular with the urban working-class, but can swing between the polarities of being kitsch or beguiling entertainment.  

The film Bride and Prejudice is a popular romance narrative, which embraces conventional Bollywood themes and contains an English source of origin. This therefore appeals to a large crossover audience by means of its hybridity of influences. The opening line from The Ballad of East and West, East is East, West is West and never the twain shall meet (Kipling, 1889), connotes a gulf in understanding between the Colonial British oppressors in India and the indigenous population, thereby suggesting the impossibility of a cultural melting pot and postulates a cultural difference between the East and the West. However, Chadha embraces these cultural differences and creates a hybrid film. This is epitomized by the nationality of the characters, which is not a homogenous group and is constructed by Indian, American and British Asian actors and characters.

The film is regarded as a British mainstream product and popular film, but it is not Eurocentric due to the influences of Bollywood in terms of its Bollywoodian conventional boy meets girl romance and the embracing of Manichean binary oppositions in representations of east and west, tradition and modernity, rural and urban, rich and poor.It is the first of the Chadha corpus of films that do not draw upon a Eurocentric framework. Nevertheless, it is suggested that

‘such themes are actively challenged by Bollywood viewers and with the emergence of diaspora as an important export market for the films since the 1990s filmmakers are re-thinking their approaches to established conventions and genres in the light of contemporary audience expectations’ (Dudrah, 2006:33).

Bride and Prejudice hence utilizes a Bollywood film language, but is rendered accessible to Western audiences and introduces a new audience to Bollywood.

Chadha does, however, rework Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, re-locating it from nineteenth-century provincial England to North-west India, and in particular the city of Amritsar. This draws upon the imperialist and colonialist past of Britain, since Amritsar is the site of a massacre that took place within the colonial period. The beginning of the film in India presents an authentic India, and additionally marks a discovery of the British Asian characters of their homeland. This discovery and the realities of the country problematize their hybrid cultural identities and their recognition of where the homeland is for the South Asian diaspora.

The diasporic characters are Mr Kholi, an American-Indian, and Kiran Bingley, a British Asian, who attempt to disassociate themselves from their South Asian roots. These two characters maintain an image of cultural superiority in relation to their Occidental identities, since the vision of the imaginary homeland has altered and become a space of which the character of Kiran Bingley is ashamed. These characters refute the trope of the ‘diasporan gaze back to the home country. Often the gaze is uncritical and nostalgic’ (Radhakrishnan, 1996:211) Mr Kholi is regarded as a point of ridicule and is a comedic character due to the Americanisms that have been ingested within his hybridized identity. This draws attention to a clash between tradition and modernity within the South Asian diaspora, and therefore, in the case of these characters, their ‘home’ is situated in the Western world.

In the conclusion of the film, the characters meet within the space of the cinema, which permits an engagement with cultures far beyond the reach of the nation and creates a connection between the local and the global. The film, exhibited within the cinema, ‘Purab aur Paschim is essentially a conservative tale, advocating the need to not forget one’s Indian cultural identity’ (Dudrah, 2006:163). It was one of the first films to create a dialogue with the South Asian diasporic experience in Britain. This therefore serves to reinforce the importance of cinema and the role that it plays in perpetuating heterogeneous identities, and preventing the erasure of one’s cultural heritage and roots.    

The novel, Pride and Prejudice, concerns the British trope of class stratifications in order to highlight the difference between the characters. Chadha retains this difference, but articulates it within the sphere of nationality, which results in cultural clashes and cultural distinctions between the characters. The character of Elizabeth Bennett is translated into the Indian body of Lalita Bakshi, and is played by the former Miss World and Bollywood star, Aiswarya Rai. She serves to rebuke the archaic Western image of the Indian nation, by perpetuating a modern and an authentic image of India, in a similar manner to the character of Rekha in Bhaji on the Beach. She retains the independent qualities of the Austen heroine and therefore the Western traditions, which permits the character female agency amidst the patriarchal Indian culture. 

The character of Mr Darcey from the novel is transposed into the body of a White American in order to highlight the Western stereotypical assumptions of India, as a primitive and inferior nation, and a space of potential capitalist exploitation. The inter-racial relationship between the characters of Darcey and Lalita functions as a meeting of the East and the West and a meeting of cultures. However, it permits a dialogue with the authentic attitudes of Indian culture and tradition, since the relationship between the characters is not considered problematic in relation to cultural identity, which is expressed in Bhaji on the Beach. As Chadha asserts, in the director’s commentary of the film, that the inter-racial relationships in India are not perceived as problematic; it is in England where these are viewed as a point of conflict. This suggests that the forbidding of inter-racial relationships can be interpreted as an engagement with an imaginary homeland and a nostalgic view of traditions and culture in India, rather than an accurate depicting of the authentic nation.    

The engagement with Bollywood aesthetics proliferates the perception of Chadha as a populist filmmaker. Bride and Prejudice marks not only a continuation of the themes within Chadha’s corpus of films, but also a departure. The departure is derived from the explicit usage of Bollywood traditions, for example the use of the popular vernacular of song and dance routines. The song and dance routines are crucial elements of the beguiling entertainment of the Bollywood film, but within this film, the songs combine Eastern and Western traditions, by means of hetereoglossia and the use of multiple languages (Desai, in Dudrah, 2006:156). The opening song and dance routine is performed in the Hindi language and adheres to the conventions of Bollywood. However, the later performances suggest the use of ‘Bollywood acts as a referent that is adapted and translated alongside other cinematic traditions from the West’ (Dudruh, 2006:163), for example they are either performed in the English language or by popular American artists, such as Ashanti. These influences mark a hybridization of cultural influences of the East and the west, rendering the film a reflection of and more accessible to South Asian diasporic communities.

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One response to “Issue One: Diasporic Film Production in Great Britain: Bride and Prejudice (Chadha, 2002)

  1. Pingback: Getting Diasporic // BCM310 | LOUISE·

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