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In a cross-cultural setting spanning present-day India, London and America, director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) reinvents Jane Austen's comic love story Bollywood-style—with a riot of color and emotion, music and dance. In a modest Indian village, Mrs. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) sets out to find husbands for her four beautiful daughters. Headstrong Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) announces she will only marry for love, but when she meets a wealthy American from California (Martin Henderson), sparks begin to fly, frustrating her mother's attempts to marry her off to a nice Indian boy. Naveen Andrews co-stars.
 

 Bride & Prejudice

At the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, days before I started shooting Bend It Like Beckham, my friend Cameron McCracken at Pathé Films asked me if I wanted to make a musical. He knew that in 1997 I had tried to make a British Bollywood extravaganza which combined my love of Bollywood and American musicals. A month into that shoot the money from the Indian stars/producers dried up and the picture was never completed. It remains the only bad experience I’ve ever had making a film.

Did I want to go back there—to the world of glamorous stars, endless costume changes, flamboyant musical numbers with hundreds of dancers and erotically-charged fountains? Of course I did. A week later I had an epiphany and knew exactly what I wanted to do. Growing up, Pride and Prejudice was my favourite book. I decided that like David Beckham, Jane Austen was another delicious English icon ripe for subversion. I would take her Elizabeth Bennet—the ultimate, feisty independent heroine of Brit Lit—and transform her into Lalita Bakshi, a proud firecracker with brains and balls who wants more than is expected of an Indian girl.

Whereas Austen explored eighteenth century class divisions, I wanted to look at the first impressions we make of each other culturally in today’s increasingly small world. Bride & Prejudice was born. The Bennets would now be the Bakshis from Amritsar—Hicksville, India. Darcy would be a rich hotelier from L.A. and his best friend Bingley, a British Indian. Instead of meeting at dancing balls, the characters would meet at weddings on three different continents.

My life (and my work) has always been about celebrating the diaspora, about seamlessly moving from England to India to the States. If so many people like me move happily across every corner of the world then why couldn’t my characters and my film language do the same? This was my shot at moving British filmmaking in a whole new direction.

Once I started adapting the novel, I was convinced Jane Austen was Indian in a previous life! The characters adapted so freely and the story and themes fit perfectly into contemporary India. A hysterical mother with four daughters to marry off, who couldn’t relate to that?

Because I grew up watching Bollywood films in the same cinema that screened The Sound of Music and West Side Story, I’ve always had a great affection for the playful chaos of Bollywood. Like India itself, it’s a cinema of vibrant contradictions that works when it seems it shouldn’t. Any cinema which combines boundless emotion with heartfelt innocence (no kissing, we’re Indian!), laugh-out-loud humour, cheesy punch-ups and a minimum of seven spectacular musical sequences is alright by me.

I could always see behind the kitsch (which is fab in all its camp glory) and see the gifted technicians beneath the colourful surface. I wanted to fuse Bollywood legends in front of and behind the camera with an international cast and crew that would take Bollywood places it’s never travelled.

Choosing my collaborators to bring the script to life was a joy. Anu Malik is the greatest Bollywood composer of infectious pop songs with joyful melodies. Saroj Khan is the godmother of Indian dance who’s choreographed hundreds of songs since she started at age thirteen. Santosh Sivan (a director in his own right of The Terrorist and Asoka) is a masterful cinematographer who’s won more National Awards (India’s equivalent to the Oscars) than anyone can remember.

For my Lizzy Bennet, I chose Aishwarya Rai (Devdas), a bewitching talent Julia Roberts described as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ For Darcy, I cast Martin Henderson (The Ring), a Kiwi Cary Grant who’s a serious hottie with heart. All that was left was to update my passport and shoot the thing.

Eighty days later, after a whirlwind shoot in London, Amritsar, Goa, Bombay, Sedona, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Downtown L.A., I have a film which honours Bollywood because it covers the gamut of all your emotions. And—as is always the case when you make a film—it somehow captures all the different sides of who I am and how people like me see the world. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s camp and it’s genially subversive!