In these serious times of hurricanes, wars, energy shortages, global warming, and such, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that is unfailingly vibrant, colorful, light, and unapologetically cheesy.
“Bride and Prejudice” is the first mainstream (more or less) Bollywood musical. “Bollywood” is the term used to describe India’s thriving film industry, which is centered in Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay: Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood.
Bride and Prejudice is worth seeing if only to gaze upon the beauty of Aishwarya (ash-waar-e-ah) Rai. In a previous post I noted that she has been called the most beautiful woman in the world and I can’t argue with that call (though many commenters to my post certainly do).
Since I knew that the movie was going to have a happy ending, with no killings or car chases along the way, the main dramatic tension for me was whether Rai was going to kiss onscreen.
Back in January a “60 Minutes” story about her noted that she hadn’t yet done so. When asked by the reporter if a kiss would ever happen, she coyly said “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
We’re still waiting. She came damn close several times in Bride and Prejudice but lips never actually met, so far as I could tell. Bollywood movies are notoriously chaste while also being sensuously erotic. This fits with an India that has produced both the sexually charged Kama Sutra and the spiritually elevated Upanishads.
I’ve been to India twice for just a couple of weeks each time. I didn’t travel around much and don’t claim to fathom the essence of this complex country that isn’t easily fathomed. Here’s an anecdote that pretty much sums up my overall impression of India.
In 1998 I flew from this country to India in two stages: Los Angeles to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to New Delhi.
On the first leg over the Pacific the plane was filled largely with Chinese people, not surprisingly. It was a fourteen hour flight, almost eerily calm. The passengers mostly talked in hushed tones. Chinese children sat quietly in their seats or walked slowly in the aisles. Order prevailed.
Then, after getting a blessed night’s sleep at a Hong Kong airport hotel, I got on United’s Flight 1 (since discontinued, I believe) to Delhi. Now the plane was filled with Indians. Pandemonium prevailed. Children hung over the backs of their seats, yelling to relatives many rows away. Mothers loudly admonished their offspring, to no avail. Nonstop chatter filled my ears all the way to landing.
Don’t get me wrong: I love India’s exuberance. This is what makes Bollywood movies such as Bride and Prejudice so enjoyable, all that joyful dancing in rainbow-hued costumes, passionate people living life to the fullest, as it should be lived. It’s just that if you want to get some sleep on a long flight, choose one going to Hong Kong, not New Delhi.
However, there’s no contest between these two cities when it comes to cab rides. Delhi is the winner, hand’s down. This assumes, of course, that your main criterion for a good cab ride is being scared shitless as opposed to getting where you want to go safely and quickly. Here’s how I described it in our 1998 Christmas letter (a PDF file):
In February Brian went to India. There he had the most terrifying experience of his life, a fearful event which almost all overseas travelers have heard about, but few survive: the New Delhi cab ride.
This would, by the way, be an excellent addition to Disneyland—an exciting thrill attraction that would put the Indiana Jones ride to shame. Imagine yourself getting into the back seat of a rickety car in the middle of the night, no seat belts, nothing to hang on to.
The driver speaks little English, so you hand him a slip of paper with an address on it and he rockets off into the mysterious New Delhi night, the air pungent with the exotic odor of diesel fumes. The car shakes and rattles as it speeds along, its horn beeping constantly as the driver pulls to within inches of the back bumper of huge trucks filling both lanes of the road, then darting around and past them whenever a space more-or-less (usually, it seems, less) large enough for the cab to fit through appears. As the trucks begin to move together again, the cab not yet past, your driver increases the speed of his honking and yells inexplicable Hindi words out the window.
He seems to be saying, “I believe in reincarnation. Kill me now if you must. I will enjoy a better next life, free of this damned cab and my American passenger.” To top it off, after half an hour or so the driver stops and admits, in halting English, that he has no idea how to get to where he’s supposed to go. Ah…the mysterious East. But undoubtedly this happens in New York too.