The one stark difference from other versions I have seen is the scenes. The picturisation is absolutely enchanting to say the least. The green English countryside, the constant downpours, the stone buildings, the noise and colour in the parties, the houses in which the girls live...the list can go on. Everything is vivid and alive. Unlike the BBC series (a very good one, I would like to add) where you somehow have the impression of watching the proceedings as a third party, the camera in this version makes you feel like you are actually over there watching the story unfold. Some of the characterizations are also good. Mr. Bennett in this movie is kinder and more in sync with the family than he was in the original book. Charlotte Lucas is perfect as an aging spinster; aware of the compromises she has to make. Miss Bingley in the few scenes she has comes across as she ought to – a clever, perhaps slightly cynical woman who is probably in love with Mr. Darcy, but wants him more for the advantages that come with such a marriage. The casting is also appropriate in most cases. Keira Knightley’s liveliness has now been admired at almost all quarters. The gaggle of sisters looks just the way you would have imagined them to be.
The challenge in taking a fairly complicated book like this and making it into a three-hour movie is in figuring out which scenes to leave out and which scenes to retain. What characters are to be developed, and what side stories are to be forgotten. The central tale is that of Lizzie Bennet, the Gentleman’s daughter with no fortune and four sisters, falling in love with the rich and proud Mr. Darcy. Unfortunately the book has way too many characters that contribute to the tale of love between Lizzie and Darcy. Minor characters like Mr. and Mrs. Hurst are sacrificed. But the director still needs to retain Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne De Bourgh. So at the end of the movie, the one overwhelming feeling you have is of having read a summary of the book. You can get what the movie is about, but you have not really had the time to cry and laugh with Lizzie. Lizzie and Darcy patching up makes you happy but does not make you wipe a tear, nod your head and say ‘these kids!’
There are some minor points to quibble on. Why does Mr. Bingley, instead of being a genial friend, come across as an ex-inmate of a mental asylum on rehabilitation in the countryside? He smiles like an imbecile every time he is on screen. Just when you are glad that he has stopped smiling, he opens his mouth and says some silly dialogues. Even his hair sticks out all over the place like he has had one too many electric shock treatments in the loony bin. Mr. Collins looks more sensible than he does. Also, did any woman say ‘Don’t judge me’ to her friends before Sex and the City? Why is Wickham barely there? And that’s not just because an eye-candy plays the role. As a fairly key character, the character should have been given atleast as much importance as Mr. Collins.
On the whole, if you can, read the book. If you must watch this movie, reserve it for a rainy afternoon when the scenes in the movie matches the weather outside and you just may discover the spark of romance that makes the book one of the best romantic books ever written.
What about personal tragedies though? This morning, I was having breakfast and watching the news, when the reporter told the story of five college girls who drowned at Hoggenakkal Falls. Then suddenly there were the bloated faces of two of those girls floating underwater with their hair streaming around their faces. What was till then an impersonal story giving you some sound advice about being careful around water bodies, became a full-fledged invasion of privacy in a personal tragedy. Who benefits by watching this footage? The parents of the girls must be distraught enough without having the pictures being flashed on National TV. They certainly deserve privacy in their moment of grief. The viewer does not need these disturbing pictures thrown at them. For one, everyday someone is dying and the collective effect of watching all of this is not going to make anyone’s day better. For another, what does the viewer get out of this footage except some voyeuristic pleasure, if you are the type?
Can anyone else think of a reason to show such footage?
Recently I watched this movie again, and realised that it is not as simple as it was made out to be. Indeed, it is a very powerful lesson on human relationships, social settings, business moves and animal welfare. In case any of you missed watching this movie, here is my retelling of the tale.
The movie starts off with Suman (Bhagyashree) teaching her father and a bunch of students in her idyllic village. Having passed her school exams with excellent marks, she does not want to be a doctor or an engineer or any other such fancy things. Instead she chooses to improve her father’s English and cool her heels while her father earns enough money for her dowry. The one thing about Sooraj Barjatia’s movies is that they are social barometers of what is ‘acceptable’ education in an average North Indian family. Years later, Nisha in Hum Apke Hain Kaun would be doing ‘computers’. I would not have been surprised if she also went for baking classes in her free time. Still more years later, one of the female leads in that imbecile marriage fest, Hum Saath Saath Hain, would actually be a doctor. I jumped with joy. Women in India had finally arrived.
Coming back to Suman. Daddy dearest (a.k.a Karan) decides to go to Dubai to earn Suman’s dowry, and leaves Suman in the house of his old friends, Kishen and Bhabi. Kishen has made it big in life and is the owner of many factories and a good house. But like all rich men in Hindi movies, has forgotten his roots and is not too nice to Karan. A fact which naïve Karan luckily does not notice at that point, giving Suman ample time to start off her romance. Enter Manohar, an orphan being brought up by Kishen and Bhabi. One quick look at his average mug, boring personality and poverty and Suman promptly requests him to be her Bhaiya, thus eliminating any ideas Manohar may have had about romancing her. Enter Prem (Salman Khan), the heir of the house, back after getting his degree in the U.S. Suman does not broach the topic of brotherhood, instead promptly proceeds to fall in love. This is achieved by a general combination of
(a) looking vulnerable – weeping gently when her father’s letter arrives
(b) mocking him without making him look like a complete fool
(c) being the damsel in distress – oh man, who can resist falling in love with a girl whom you have snatched from the evil clutches of the villain trying to rape her; and
(d) being bashful – taking 15 minutes and one entire Antakshari sequence to say ‘I love you’. (It is ironical how in Hindi movies heroines take ages to hold hands but three months after the marriage they announce they are pregnant)
Meanwhile, the evil Ranjit is plotting to be..er…. the villain. Till the end, you are not quite sure what his end objective is. He is Kishen’s business partner. Kishen and Ranjit are setting up a joint venture. Ranjit, to create sympathy also cleverly pretends to be lame, when he actually is not. In line with her father’s evil plans, his career oriented, educated, productive-citizen-of-the-country daughter, Seema woos Prem. Prem, being an average Hindi hero, is however not going to marry a Class A bitch like Seema. Class A bitch defined by the fact she smokes, wears western clothes, has short hair and works as a manager, thus increasing the likelihood of making him look incompetent in the Boardroom. I must say one would not judge Prem so harshly if one considered Seema’s terrible perm. Evil Ranjit’s nephew, Jeevan, is also there – the chappie who tries to rape Suman. Prem does not quite let that incident get in the way of his being civil to Jeevan.
There is one more important character in the proceedings – The Pigeon (Huma Khan). Suman rescues the pigeon from being shot at Seema’s party. The pigeon does not forget this and becomes the couple’s Man Friday – delivering letters, rescuing the couple from the villains when they are hanging from a branch and so on and so forth. All the while with a glint in it’s eye which comes with having been at the brink of death. Maneka Gandhi would have been proud to endorse Sooraj Barjatya movies where an animal always plays a key role in the proceedings.
Suman and Prem realise they are in love and Bhabi endorses the scheme of things. But evil Ranjit brainwashes Kishen into believing that Suman’s intentions are not pure and she is in it for the money. So on Suman’s birthday, Kishen sends off Prem on some work and accuses her of being a gold digger. Ranjit joins this round of accusations. Karan arrives just then and not sensing the mood goes about distributing gifts to all in his naïve manner. When Kishen finally brings his attention to the discussion on hand, Karan erupts angrily and opens his suitcase to reveal bundles upon bundles of hard cash – his earnings from Dubai which he carries about with him for just such a moment. After throwing a few lousy bundles on Kishen as payment for the boarding and lodging provided to Suman, he leaves the house with Suman in tow.
Prem comes back home, learns the truth and sets off to find Suman. And then sings ‘Dil Deewana’ while doing the moonwalking step (Is it a coincidence that right after this Michael Jackson’s popularity reached its peak in India?). Suman joins in by hoping like a rabbit with him. Karan, unable to bear the dance, puts a stop by asking Prem to prove his worth by earning money on his own individual merit.
Now some of you may have heard of the fabulous salaries that educated kids with fancy degrees get today. Back in the 80s, well-educated people just did not have those opportunities. If you opted out of campus placements, then it better be because you had Papa warming the MD’s chair for you in the family business. If you decided to part ways with Papa, then the only option left to you was breaking rocks in a quarry. So Prem, decides to break rocks in the quarry while enterprisingly moonlighting as a truck driver. Within a month, he earns enough money. However, Jeevan realising things are going nowhere and the movie has to end, decides to kill Prem. Kishen, Bhabi, Manohar and Ranjit also land up since the official bugle to announce the beginning of the climax has been sounded. Prem, after being beaten to pulp by Jeevan, sees that an audience that has accumulated and decides to put up another good fight. Notwithstanding the constant interruptions from Suman running hither and thither, he still manages to do a decent job. Meanwhile, Ranjit reveals that he is not lame to Kishen. Kishen is stunned by the turn of events – How could he have selected so silly a business partner that the only thing he could think of was acting lame? At the very least, he should have carried the JV agreements with him and threatened to kill Prem if Kishen did not give him 100% control of the company. Disgusted, he also joins the fray by beating up Ranjit. Bhabi and Manohar handle the henchmen. Finally Jeevan falls down the quarry, thanks to the Pigeon (I would rather not reveal the exact sequence of events since it is best seen). Ranjit and Seema leave before they can follow Jeevan down the quarry. And end up in the hands of the waiting police (But of course) and are arrested for causing mental trauma – Ranjit for pretending to be lame and Seema for perming her hair.
Kishen sees the error of his ways and decides no more JVs, only sole control. Also, no smart daughter-in-law, only Suman, the diesel mechanic’s daughter. A lesson, which would have been very useful to T.P.G Nambiar, when he chose a smart husband for his daughter who would later fight for the Group’s shares.
Suman gets married to Prem. Manohar Bhaiya settles for the only woman who will marry him – the milkmaid. The Pigeon marries another pigeon. To clarify that our heroic Pigeon is not gay, its mate has a ladylike red ribbon tied to her neck.
All is well that ends well.