28 January 2019 marks the 206th anniversary of Jane Austen’s celebrated novel Pride and Prejudice. Not only is the book indubitably a classic, it continues to sustain a cottage industry of TV and cinematic adaptations, literary sequels, prequels and rewrites, tourist tours of related venues, as well as merchandise of every description.
The book has also permeated our cultural imagination to an amazing extent: its first sentence is regularly quoted across a multitude of disciplines and platforms, Mr Darcy has become shorthand for a rude but hot man, and the plot trajectory of enemies-to-lovers has forever cemented itself as a popular trope in all romance writing.
How then does one acknowledge and celebrate such a juggernaut two centuries later, particularly when we in India are also so removed from its cultural context? With a dash of that Lizzie Bennet irreverence, we say.
Today is an ideal opportunity to bust out a copy of Gurinder Chadha’s so-bad-it’s-good Bride and Prejudice, starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Lalita Bakshi/Elizabeth Bennet and Martin Henderson as Will Darcy/Fitzwilliam Darcy.
If there was ever a film to be vastly improved by the addition of some alcohol, this is it. To all the purists who would likely consider this game a literary sacrilege, we would like to direct everyone’s attention to this charming letter, a very hungover Austen wrote to her beloved sister after a night of dancing and merrymaking. Blessing of Austen thus secured, let us go ahead and imbibe freely.
TAKE A SIP WHENEVER:
1) Unimportant background extras are heard speaking in Hindi.
2) Some practice/ritual/feature/custom is “Indiasplained” to Darcy.
3) Balraj “goes native” while his sister looks on with a mixture of condescension and embarrassment.
4) Shehnai or tabla music plays as part of background score.
5) Mrs Bakshi casually name-drops foreign addresses/brands/artists in a never-ending quest to establish her credentials as a cosmopolitan Indian.
6) Lalita defends India.
7) A group of Indian women gather over tea to talk smack about neighbours and eye all the eligible men around.
8) Mr Kohli is the worst.
TAKE A SHOT WHENEVER:
1) A wild tractor appears!
2) “Delhi Belly” is mentioned.
3) Jaya and Lalita lower their eyes in maidenly demureness.
4) Someone notices Darcy creepin’ on Lalita.
5) Bijli, the Bakshis’ long-suffering servant, clearly meant to embody the widespread practice of employing domestic help in India, mops the floor.
6) Someone does an elaborate namaste, hands folded and head bowed.
7) A wild MSN appears!
8) A hippie is spotted on the beach during one of the Goa sequences.
9) Lalita critiques neo-imperialism.
10) A hard cover edition of The Complete Works of Jane Austen makes an appearance (25:02)
POUR ONE OUT FOR:
1) Lalita’s accent which makes no sense given that she has grown up and lived all her life in Amritsar, Punjab.
2) Lakhi Bakshi who is constantly harangued and scolded by her family for entirely age-appropriate behaviour until she is forced to elope with a penniless Wickham just to escape their censure.
3) The cultural appropriation of Garba by Amritsar-dwelling folks.
4) The air hostess in first class who was without a doubt summoned at the least pretence by Mrs Bakshi throughout the 11-hour flight.
5) Your ears, for having to sit through the worst English lyrics in all of creation.
6) This bit of trivia on the IMDB page of Bride and Prejudice:
“Lalita and Darcy never kiss each other. Not even at the end. This is because Bollywood films in general never show characters kissing, as most in India consider it something that should be kept private.”
(Neha Yadav is currently pursuing a PhD in literature. When not engaged in narrative nit-picking in her professional capacity, she can be found doing it for the sheer pleasure of it.)