Hollywood meets Bollywood in this lightweight but utterly beguiling attempt — by Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha — to take Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice for a musical whirl in the here and now. Here being Amritsar, India, where Mr. Bakshi (Anupam Kher) and his ambitious wife (Nadira Babbar) are eager to marry off their four daughters. At first, take a look at the photo above of Aishwarya Rai, who as Lalita, the eldest daughter. Rai, a former Miss World and a goddess in her native India, will soon be adding Americans to her worshipful flock. No wonder 60 Minutes just did a major profile of her. Rai is a world-class hottie with talent to match, as she proves in her first English-speaking role. Pity pretty boy Martin Henderson (The Ring), who plays Darcy, the American in love with Lalita despite the prejudice of his hotel-magnate mom (Marsha Mason). He looks lost in his scenes with Rai. Like a kid driving a Rolls, he’s out of place and outclassed.
The script unravels as it moves to London and Los Angeles and stuffs in new takes on Austen’s characters. But Chadha, the shrewdie, keeps the movie alive with swirling color, music and movement. The songs are deliciously silly, especially “No Life Without Wife,” which Lalita and her sisters sing in mockery of Mr. Kholi (a scene-stealing Nitin Ganatra), the bachelor who wants a bride for his new L.A. home. Purists who think Austen will be spinning in her grave will be wrong. She’ll be dancing.