Modernization in Pride and Prejudice Adaptations: Joe Wright’s Realism and Romance in Pride and Prejudice & Gurinder Chadha’s Filmic and Cultural Hybridity in Bride and Prejudice


Adaptation Title Image

After a drought which lasted nearly sixty years, a Jane Austen resurgence has brought the 18-19th century author back to life.  For Pride and Prejudice, after the 1940 elaborately-costumed Lawrence Olivier version from MGM, audiences had to wait until 1995 for the release of the British miniseries iconically associated with Colin Firth emerging shirtless from a lake.  It wasn’t until 2003 that Pride and Prejudice finally returned to the big screen in the form of a “Latter-Day” adaptation, which presumably made much of the novel’s chastity for its Mormon audiences.  Becoming Jane (2007) fused the Pride and Prejudice narrative with the figure of Jane Austen, blending fiction, history and authorship, while 2013 will see Elizabeth Bennet fighting not only her pride and prejudices but also zombie foes (“Pride and Prejudice”).  But before adaptation gets stretched quite so far, let us consider Joe Wright’s 2005 realistic, modernized-heritage rendition of Pride and Prejudice and Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 Bollywood/ Hollywood hybrid Bride and Prejudice, which relocates the story to modern day India.

While Wright’s film is a rather “traditional,” faithful form of adaptation, its subtle modifications reveal an effort to modernize Elizabeth and the so-called heritage-style adaptation of classic British novels for modern audiences.  On the other hand, Chadha dramatically transposes the novel’s basic style, culture, and location to a post-colonial global Indian setting inspired by her own perspective as a Non-Resident Indian living in Britain (Dawtrey B2).  Because of this, Chadha actually does make a few recourses to the heritage tradition as a way of aligning her bold adaptation with its British filmic predecessors and textual ancestor.  Like Wright, she privileges the romantic relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy as a means of modernization, to the expense of some of Austen’s social critiques and literary language.  But Chadha’s centering of the romance plot was also done in accordance with the generic traditions of Bollywood cinema, Bride’s stylistic manifestation of her geographical and cultural relocation to India and of her narrative and stylistic marriage of cultures.  Thus, the obstacles to romantic union for Bride’s Elizabeth, here renamed Lalita, and Darcy become based on cultural differences while Wright maintains the divisive differences in social class from Austen’s novel.  With Bride and Prejudice, Chadha offers a self-conscious adaptation, a “hybrid” of classic and contemporary, of literature and film, of Hollywood and Bollywood, of the East and the West, to appeal to the diverse audiences making up today’s hybridized global population (Wilson 323).

Christine Geraghty, scholar of classic adaptation, writes that the “Austen revival of the 1990’s has often been explained as a combination of the classic adaptation’s traditional emphasis on costume, landscape, and a familiar plot with new exploration of a more modern sensibility- that of the independent young woman facing choices in her personal life” with an accompanying “shift not only to a central heroine but also to an address to a female audience” (33).  Such shifts tend to align the films with the conventions of the romance genre, most notably its “narrative structure organized around the learning process that has to take place before the central couple can find harmony and love” (Geraghty 33-4).  Because of this alignment, many “modern” adaptations have increasingly privileged the romantic relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy and taken recourse to the romance genre, often for commercial reasons and to the intense chagrin of literary critics and purists.  This privileging of the romance plot and the modernization of a central heroine mark both Wright and Chadha’s adaptation and can be initially seen in each of their films’ taglines: Wright’s trailer declares that his Pride and Prejudice is from “beloved author Jane Austen” but is the “story of a modern woman” while Bride and Prejudice explains that “Hollywood meets Bollywood—And it’s a perfect match,” describing its cultural and stylistic blending in terms of the story’s well-known romance (Wilson 323; Hopkins 148).

As a central part of this modernization, director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach give their adaptation of Pride and Prejudice unequivocally to the character of Elizabeth.  Moggach writes that “this film, I decided, would be Elizabeth’s story.  She is in every scene; we see it all from her point of view” and this is evident from the film’s opening scene onward (19).  Here, Elizabeth walks alone through a field at daybreak, reading a book which only a carefully timed Pause reveals to be Pride and Prejudice itself.  Having conveyed her intent concentration on the novel’s last pages, the camera repositions itself, and audiences, at her right shoulder, so as to read the book with her, move through the field with her, enter her perspective and her consciousness for the rest of the story.  Deborah Cartmell cites David Roche’s reading of this “meta-adaptive moment,” visible too in Bride where Lalita reads a copy of Pride and Prejudice by the pool, “as an announcement to the film’s infidelity to Austen, that the adaptation will leave the book behind to create something different” (112).  This is an extremely productive way of viewing this film, which “pulled a comb through Austen’s dialogue,” as Moggach explains, and took a “muddy hem” and “rustic chaos” approach to the pristine, glamorous heritage tradition and its focus on landscape and costume (19).  Here, for example, the film’s opening shot of a dawn-lit English meadow would seem to establish this adaptation as just another British heritage piece, but Wright immediately upsets such a connection; instead, this opening scene initiates his association of landscape with the character of Elizabeth, her independence, and her personal and romantic growth.

Wright’s use of costume, too, works to distance his adaptation from previous heritage films and further establishes the connection between Elizabeth and nature.  Here, costume satisfies the needs of characterization and contrast as opposed to its more spectacular, self-serving function in films like MGM’s Olivier version.  For Keira Knightly, the film’s modern heroine, “the difference between costume and modern dress is consistently played down” and she wears no bonnets, ribbons or gloves like the other ladies.  Additionally, she is dressed in muted greens and browns, or neutral whites and creams, eschewing the pastels which Geraghty explains often cover the young women of costume dramas (38).  Such colors also tie Elizabeth to nature, an association which Wright uses to visually convey the development of the romance between her and Darcy and to visually mark her independence, her separateness from society.

This Elizabeth continually moves confidently through physical landscapes, flees confining houses and entrapping society to stand alone outside, and is dramatically and emotionally situated in sympathetic nature.  For instance, one stunning patiently-held shot shows Elizabeth’s solitary silhouette walking the full length of the horizon, visually and physically commanding and traversing space.  Additionally, Elizabeth rushes outside to process her feelings and thoughts alone, away from society, after her emotion-stirring dance and conversation with Darcy at the second ball.  And in Pride’s most dramatic use of landscape, a striking pathetic fallacy marks Darcy’s first disastrous marriage proposal: having learned that Darcy separated her sister Jane and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth furiously flees the crowded church and rushes outside, into the dramatic storm that reflects her rage.  She moves swiftly over a horizon-spanning bridge and takes refuge against an old colonnade; Darcy appears suddenly, similarly rain-soaked and emotionally-riled, to ask for her hand.  Now, the heavy rain and rugged forest backdrop mirror the choleric passion that fills each of them as their pride and prejudices are given full voice.

Geraghty argues that such use of landscape is also strongly associated with “romantic conventions” and thus Wright utilizes it not only to contrast his heroine with her mannered, restricting society, but also to show the learning and development that take place between her and Darcy.  This association with dramatic landscapes also heightens the romance by epically implicating fate and by positioning it in nature, outside society, like Elizabeth herself (Geraghty 40).  When Elizabeth and Darcy meet in the crowded chaos of a country dance, social manners create bad first impressions on both sides and the stifling dinners and teas which follow further constrain the couple’s movement towards each other.  It is only in nature, in the “outside spaces where time and social order can be ignored” that their pride and prejudices can be finally overcome, their romantic union finally accomplished (40).  This nature-encouraged movement towards each other after the first failed proposal is consummated in a second successful marriage proposal which takes place at dawn, in a field much like the one Elizabeth was first seen in, revealing the suitability of the union to both their natures.

This final encounter solidifies Darcy and Elizabeth’s personal and romantic development, their perfect companionship after spending much of the narrative largely isolated from others, on the fringe of social groups.  Plus, throughout the movie, Darcy would repeatedly appear very suddenly, emerging into the room (and the screen) as if out of nowhere, physically startling Elizabeth and taking her by surprise, such as he did in the first proposal.  But here at the end, having developed and overcome her pride and prejudices, Elizabeth now truly sees Darcy and his perfect suitability for her and is thus finally able, along with audiences, to see him approach: the camera holds on him as he walks the field’s entire length toward her, heightening the impression of the emotional and chronological distance that it has taken for each of them to reach this point.  As these two outdoor proposal scenes make very clear, these “romantic moments are visually heavily marked” and contrast with the film’s other emphases on reality, which were inspired by Wright’s background in realistic T.V. drama and his attempts to modernize the British heritage tradition with which such adaptations are usually associated; these emphases include the costumes, the house and farm’s functional and detailed mise-en-scène, and Keira Knightley’s modern, light handling of Austen’s language (Geraghty 40; McFarlane 11).

While the majority of the modifications Wright made to Austen’s novel fall under these categories of using realism to distance himself from the heritage tradition, modernizing the heroine, and privileging the development of the romance between the couple, Chadha’s adaptation, though encompassing the same modernized heroine and centralized romance, has bigger cultural goals that end up inflecting most of her transitions to modern day India, to Bollywood cinema traditions, and to a conscious hybridization.  Firstly, unlike Wright, Chadha utilizes landscape to represent national identity, similar to the use of the English countryside in British heritage films, but the nations she presents are India, the United Kingdom (London), and the U.S. (Los Angeles); much of these ‘landscapes’ are urban and suburban and thus represent the predominantly modern spaces of today’s global world.  A few stunning shots of agrarian landscapes, though, represent the “old India” in striking visual contrast to the chaotic streets of Deli, the tourist resort at Goa which Lalita insists does not represent the “real India,” and the iconic, globally-commercial images of Los Angeles and London’s tourist sites (Geraghty 42).  This “old India,” characterized by the film’s opening shots of Amritsar’s Golden Temple and of Lalita riding a donkey-pulled cart through corn fields, is becoming increasingly hard to hold on to in an age of global expansion and commercialization, just as traditional Indian values are being lost in the Westernization and capitalization of the global culture and economy. 

Also, in terms of costume, Chadha rejects Wright’s realism for the spectacle associations of heritage costume dramas, eschewing his muted, natural approach and filling the entirety of the screen with a rainbow of vibrantly colored saris.  Geraghty explains that “Lalita’s switching between Indian and Western dress,” between vivid saris for the Bollywood dance sequences and Indian wedding rituals and jeans and T-shirts for her everyday life, “demonstrates her position as a modern Indian woman” (Geraghty 42).  Besides highlighting the modernity of Chadha’s Indian heroine, Bride’s costumes are also undeniable spectacle, pulled from Bollywood convention, just like the opening reference to a religious icon for good luck (Cartmell 102).  Scholar of Bollywood, or Hindi, cinema Nasreen Munni Kabir contextualizes such extravagance, explaining that typical Bollywood formula films rely on the “total spectacle” (14).  These films, whose prominence was especially solidified with the introduction of color, emphasize family dramas and love stories in which the spectacle takes center stage and the “settings and the costumes become more important than the themes,” an approach similar to many Western costume dramas and reflected in Chadha’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and as its Bollywood stylizing (16).

While Chadha’s privileging of the romance plot between Lalita and Darcy is a commercial modernization like Wright’s, it is also motivated, like her spectacular use of costume, by Bollywood filmic tradition which demands and revels in “love stories” and “happy endings” (Kabir 19).  This Bollywood-inspired emphasis on romance clearly directed many of the plot changes and narrative modifications that Chadha made to Austen’s novel, the clearest of which is perhaps her enlargement of the jealousy and competition between Darcy and Johnny Wickham (here a cad of backpacker) over Lalita.  Furthermore, Kabir explains that within Bollywood cinema, which is defined by convention, formula, and repetition, the “most recurrent theme” beloved and demanded by audiences is that of the love triangle (10).  Thus, Chadha makes the drama of Lakhi’s (Lydia’s) running away with Wickham a suspenseful action sequence raced through the tourist spots of London rather than Austen’s static waiting to find out if one young woman has lost her reputation and ruined her family.  As opposed to acting secretly and alone to find the couple and redeem Lydia through the legitimization of marriage, Chadha’s Darcy takes Lalita with him to literally chase Wickham past the London Eye and into a Bollywood movie theater.  Darcy emerges triumphant from his cinematic fistfight with Wickham (no such physical confrontation would ever have occurred in Austen), the “action hero” beloved of Bollywood narratives, having bloodied Wickham’s nose, won over Lalita and, unlike in Pride and Prejudice, returned Lakhi to her family (Kabir 19).

This application of Pride and Prejudice’s romance plot to the stylizing and conventions of Bollywood cinema reveals a natural affinity between Austen’s comedy of errors and the popular Indian film tradition.  There are many other points of compatability as well, including: the parallel between marrying for money and Indian arranged marriages; the shared sexual modesty and emphasis on the family; and the use of dances to depict socialization, romantic courtship, and the choreographed patterns of men and women.  This plethora of parallels shows the way that Austen’s novel might be productively mapped onto the contours of Indian culture and Bombay cinema, which is exactly what Chadha does.  However, her hybridizing interests extend beyond the mere kinship between the two texts and her cultural relocation has greater repercussions than simply changing out Austen’s balls for Bollywood dances, which she does do.  This narrative and structural blend of cultures ends up creating a stylistic and commercial middle ground for global audiences, one which allows Chadha to comment on the pride and prejudices which affect the East and West in today’s post-colonial, global world.

The characteristic presence of dance and musical numbers is perhaps the best known aspect of Bollywood cinema outside of India, and so Chadha uses it as the easiest point of access and integration for Western audiences.  Pride and Prejudice and Bollywood cinema share the ritualized, choreographed dances which function as a sanctioned means of socialization between the sexes as well as a literal and thematic way of expressing the ritualized choreography of manners in society and courtship.  The dances also additionally offer a way of narratively tracing the development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship, of materializing their back-and-forths, which Wright visually expresses in his elaborately choreographed ball sequences.  His camera’s intricate choreography mirrors this social “dancing” and utilizes minutes-long continuous tracking shots in its seamless following of the various people and their diverse interactions.  Bride’s Bollywood dances, the narrative and stylistic equivalent of Austen’s balls, trace this same development between Darcy and Lalita, revealing Darcy’s increased interest in Lalita by showing his efforts to win her over by attempting to join her in the dances, though he remains awkward and unskilled at the ritualized steps.

The wedding song is a traditional Bollywood characteristic and Bride and Prejudice’s three main dance sequences relate to marriage, a theme salient to Jane Austen’s novels, though Bride’s sequences often pertain to arranged marriages between Indian women and “westernized” Indian men living abroad in the U.S. or the UK.  Balraj’s (Bingly) very Westernized (and Whitened) sister translates for both American Darcy and Western audiences the formulaic lyrics and corresponding steps of the opening dance sequence, the film’s introduction to both its Bollywood stylization and this Austenian/Indian narrative world of ritualized courtship and marriage for advancement: here the drama and ritual in “the boys meet the girls and the girls meet the boys” is acted out through colorful, traditional song and dance, just as it was wordlessly conveyed in Wright’s films and Austen’s novels.  And as Cheryl A. Wilson points out in her wonderful essay on Bride and Prejudice, “the back-and-forth dialogue of the song echoes the back-and-forth of the dialogue of Elizabeth and Darcy in Austen’s novel” and “reinforces how social dance stands as a model of heterosexual partnership” (326-7).

Furthermore, Vijay Mishra points out that in Bollywood, “songs are significant emotional correlatives, they extend dialogue or filmic image” and, as Wilson adds, “can even replace dialogue” (148; 328).  This is the case, for example, in the dance and music montage which represents the courtship between Lalita and Darcy as they overcome their cultural prejudices, which shows them coming closer together without any dialogue passing between them.  Instead, the song, a reprise of “Take Me to Love,” and the luscious images of L.A. and the Grand Canyon convey the budding romance between the couple.  Here, Bollywood song and dance act as cinematic stand-ins and equivalents for Austen’s literary language, as well as a visual literalization of the marriage of East and West which is here embodied in Lalita and Darcy’s coupling and in the meeting of Hindi’s stylistic conventions with Hollywood’s landscapes.

By moving her Austenian adaptation to India, Chadha inherently changes the main obstacles between Elizabeth/Lalita and Darcy from differences in class to differences in culture.  This switch occurs naturally but it also facilitates much of Chadha’s critical commentary on the pride and prejudices that exist between global cultures today, voiced through the Austenian characters and situation.  Chadha explicitly discusses this, explaining that “whereas Austen explored 18th century class divisions, I wanted to look at the first impressions we make of each other culturally in today’s increasingly small world” (“Press Packet” 2).

As in Austen’s novel, Chadha’s Darcy does not make a good first impression; he is socially awkward and uncomfortable and comes off as prideful and arrogant, here because of his Western businessman identity.  Because of her narrative shift to cross-cultural impressions and interactions, Darcy appears uncomfortable and distant primarily because of the cultural distance between him and his surroundings, not because of the privileged class standing which alienated Wright and Austen’s hero.  Darcy accompanies his British friend Balraj to his Indian “homeland” for the traditional Indian wedding of Balraj’s friend to an Indian girl, an arranged marriage.  As is conventional for Bollywood films, the wedding here is communicated through a ritualized song and dance number, which Darcy is literally unable to join because he does not know the steps.  Cultural difference heightens this Darcy’s discomfort beyond that of Darcy in the opening dance scene of Austen’s novel and Wright’s film, for in Chadha’s Bollywood film the awkwardness of foreign cultures has replaced the invisible barriers of class and manners.

However, in this new cultural environment, Chadha offers Darcy an excuse that the other Darcys are never afforded.  Dressed in a traditional Indian sherwani, which only highlight’s his Otherness in this Indian (and Bollywood) context, Darcy struggles to keep his pants’ drawstring tied.  When he rudely and abruptly dismisses Lalita’s offer to dance, the audience sees it is because his pants would certainly have fallen down if he had tried, a truth which, hidden from Lalita, cements her prejudices of the Westerner and causes her to continually see them in Darcy.

As this wedding scene, this first confrontation of cultures (and cinematic styles) makes clear, Lalita’s personal and romantic development will involve learning to see beyond her cultural prejudices and defenses, learning not to project them onto all wealthy Western men.  Whereas Wright’s Elizabeth had to overcome pride and prejudices founded in Darcy’s different social class and manifested in his unappealing personality, Lalita must learn to bypass the cultural prejudices which her life in a rural Indian town, in a global post-colonial economy, have taught her to defensively raise at the first sight of wealthy Westerners.  While Wright’s Elizabeth initially dislikes Darcy because she finds him “rude, unpleasant,” Chadha’s Lalita harshly condemns Darcy for his “pride, arrogance, [and] vanity,” denouncing her idea of Western imperialist men in general more so than Darcy himself.

As this makes clear, Lalita’s prejudices have been in place since long before Darcy’s arrival and were merely brought out and engaged by his seemingly rude refusal to join in the Bollywood-style dance (and as she sees it, her entire culture by extension).  After this first bad impression, she continually critiques Darcy for the faults she believes Western culture as a whole embodies in relation to India, and also projects these onto him when he doesn’t actually deserve it.  “Rich American” she defensively labels Darcy after he quickly leaves the wedding dance to attend to his pants, “what does he think, we’re not good enough for him?,” referring to both herself and her sister as potential mates but also to Indian culture as a whole.  After this initial incident, Lalita frequently puts words in Darcy’s mouth, projecting her own cultural prejudices onto him as the embodiment of the West.  “I think you should find someone simple and traditional to teach you to dance like the natives” she tells him coldly, becoming defensively aggressive about her culture in response to his critique of the system of arranged marriages which she herself also dislikes.  Also, it is she who supplies the colonially-implicated “natives,” revealing the large impact colonialism had and still has on India and its people, especially its women, who are now dealing with the repercussions in a global world (Hopkins 127-8).

Beyond this inherent narrative shift to cultural differences, seen in these last examples, Chadha also utilizes her new setting to position Lalita as a sort of mouthpiece for India, a “spokesperson for her country” (Geraghty 42, 40).  And though Lalita’s prejudices sometimes cause her to become overly defensive and attack Darcy when it isn’t warranted, the film is still generally sympathetic to many of her arguments of Western globalization and her defenses of India, ultimately agreeing with her.  Furthermore, the focus on cultural differences and the positioning of Lalita as national and cultural spokesperson means that the witty conversational dialogue which characterizes Austen’s novel here becomes political and economic in content, argumentative and soap-box-y in style.  Lalita seems to voice world view positions rather than personal opinions, sounding more like a text book or academic lecture than a real person.

Chadha consciously uses Lalita, Darcy, and Pride and Prejudice itself as vehicles for these cultural and global debates.  Their first conversation involves Darcy describing his (Western) “standards” of business and hotels, to which Lalita counters that what his hotels charge for one night’s stay is “more than most people here make in a year.”  She further stresses to him that standards are fine “as long as you don’t impose them on others,” clearly voicing a model for Western-Indian relations beyond the two individual characters.  Lalita tells Darcy that she doesn’t want him (and by extension, all “American Imperialists”) “turning India into a theme park” for rich tourists looking to sample a “touch” of exotic culture with guaranteed “five star comfort,” directly recalling India’s historic relation to colonial powers and its exploited existence as “exotic” jewel in Britain’s colonial crown.

Furthermore, Lalita also defends India against Kohli, Bride and Prejudice’s translation of Austen’s Mr. Collins figure, who is perhaps the film’s clearest condemnation of Indians’ excessive Westernization and the replacing of traditional values with global capitalist ideas of success as measured in money and modernization.  Kohli “is a green card holder now,” living in the U.S., and he voices the stereotypical dismissals of India usually espoused by Western nations, no longer seeing himself as Indian though still hypocritically looking for a “traditional” Indian wife.  “U.K.’s finished, India’s too corrupt,” Kohli says offhandedly, sounding exactly like an ignorantly overconfident American, to which Lalita hotly responds, voicing her own as well as the film’s deflating defense of India against such Western notions of superiority: “And what do you think the U.S. was like sixty years after independence?  All killing each other over slavery and blindly searching for gold.”  Thus, through Lalita and the Pride and Prejudice narrative, Chadha is able to question dominant Western values of progress and superiority and to argue for a hybrid and open rather than an imperialist culture.

Chadha, who co-wrote the film with her Japanese-American husband Paul Mayeda Berges, explains that “Bride and Prejudice is a multinational, multi-cultural crowd-pleaser that touches on American Imperialism, the way the West looks at India and what people regard as backward or progressive” (Macnab 37).  In offering a cultural and commercial “middle ground” to global audiences, with something both familiar and different to everyone, Chadha wants her films to be seen, to appeal to and impact as wide an audience as possible, which again aligns her with the Bollywood tradition (Chadha and Burges Commentary).  Chadha not only utilizes Bollywood conventions to tell Austen’s story, but her very hybridization process of adaptation is itself reflective of the Bollywood movies she is invoking.  For instance, Kabir explains that the Bollywood formula film must “speak to the grandmother and the grandson at the same time,” to a “pan-Indian audience” in the same way that Chadha wants her film to speak to wide audiences of both Easterners and Westerners, both native Indians and Indians of the Diaspora (2; Geraghty 40).  Also, Bollywood films themselves are hybrids of genre, much like Chadha’s “middle ground” film which was meant to be neither entirely Bollywood nor entirely Hollywood.  “The Bollywood film,” Kabir explains, “juggles several genres and themes at the same time” and, like Bride, offers audiences a “melodramatic and emotional rollercoaster” (“Press Packet” 7).

Chadha’s film is not only a hybrid in terms of style (Hollywood and Bollywood filmmaking) and cultural forms (British literature, Bollywood cinema), it is also a highly conscious and reflexive work of adaptation and hybridization which highlights the very processes it is utilizing in order to comment on the global culture in which we all live and on the way pride and prejudices now globally interact between the West and post-Colonial East.  This approach is evident in every aspect of the film, all the way down to its multi-nation, multi-tradition casting.  Chadha explains that the particular casting of Darcy and Lalita “would enable us to really look at America and India and the kind of first impressions we make of each other culturally,” here using the original title for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to explain her modern, global, cross-cultural, adaptation (Chadha and Burges Commentary).  Furthermore, Bride’s production history too reflects Chadha’s attempt to make a formally and thematically hybrid film in which “East Meets West” and “Hollywood Meets Bollywood.”  The actors were blended from three different continents and three different acting styles and the film received both British and American funding (“Press Packet” 9; Geraghty “Jane” 163).  Furthermore, the crew itself was an international compilation, necessitated, as Chadha explains, by her hybridizing decision to “work in three different languages and three different cultural spaces” (“Press Packet” 9).

The dance sequence “No Life without Wife” provides a case study of this stylistic and cultural hybridization, the offering of something familiar and something different to each audience so as to engage them with what they know, what they don’t know, and what they think they know (Wilson 324).  As Chadha explained of her middle-ground hybridization, “the music and songs are Bollywood based but arranged and produced to suit what a Western ear will like” (“Press Packet” 11).  This particular Bollywood sequence expresses Lalita’s disappointment with the Indian men who have abandoned their culture for the globally-esteemed and -dominant values of Western capitalism and who then return to India for an arranged marriage to a “traditional” woman who has to leave home to follow them to the U.S. or U.K.  But even here, choreography of the four pajama-clad sisters recalls the sleep-over sequence of Grease, while additional dance sequences reference West Side Story and the other Western musicals that Chadha watched as a child (Geraghty 41).  As this one Bollywood sequence makes clear, Bride and Prejudice is not only an adaptation of Jane Austen to both India and Bollywood, but is also an adaptation of Bollywood for Western audiences, and represents the film’s whole process of adaptation, its formal and thematic marriage of cultures (Geraghty “Jane” 164).

In closing, I would like to return to the films themselves, to their endings’ depiction of the romantic union between Elizabeth/Lalita and Darcy in order to see how it relates to each adaptation’s stylistic and thematic goals.  Austen confirms Elizabeth and Darcy’s successful union in her novel with their joint inhabitation at his grand Pemberley estate, solving their class differences by physically placing Elizabeth in the house, that society’s clearest indication of wealth and status.  Though Elizabeth’s new name “Mrs. Darcy,” repeated over and over by her new husband, makes her elevated social status clear, Wright keeps the physically couple outside of the house and ends the film with them sitting together by the lake.  Wright includes no shot of the impressive mansion itself, for in this modern retelling, it must be very clear that Elizabeth married not for money but for love, married because she, like Darcy, realized that they were each the perfect match for the other (Moggach 19).  So though the class divide has been successfully overcome, the couple remains in the outdoor, de-socialized space which has characterized their relationship and their respective natures.  Plus, Elizabeth is here shown to have finally overcome the isolation which distinguished her throughout the film; she has found someone to stand outside with her, has completed her romantic and personal growth and found her ideal partner.  The film’s last shot slowly tightens around the couple, excluding all else, sealing their “happy ending” with their first chaste kiss.

The overcoming of cultural prejudices and differences in Chadha’s Bride, on the other hand, for all its fanfare is less clearly positive.  The movie finishes with the happy ending required of Bollywood films and the wedding which marks most classic comedies: Balraj and Lalita’s sister marry in a joint ceremony with Lalita and Darcy, and the two couples ride elephants through the streets of Amritsar, which is celebrating the local wedding (and the revenue it brought in).  This book-ends and reverses the arranged wedding sequence which opened Bride, for in this closing ceremony, which is equally traditional if not also larger in scale, both parties have married for love.  Cultural difference seems to have been overcome: Darcy, in stark contrast to his first appearance at an Indian wedding and his repeatedly failed attempts at joining in the Bollywood dances, appears in a band of Indian drummers, now culturally and personally in sync (literally) with Lalita and India.  The two couples ride off towards their “happily ever afters” with the whole town cheering, confetti falling, and the Bollywood music swelling joyously, a cultural rather than a private celebration.

However, there are practical questions which Wilson points out are left unanswered by this romantic marriage and the cultural marriage it implies, practicalities that don’t trouble Wright’s couple (330).  Where will they live?  Will Lalita leave her home to go West like so many of the Indian girls? How will their families interact?  (The last time we saw Lalita’s mother she was still looking for a “nice Indian boy” for Lalita and Darcy’s mother saw no need to actually visit India because of the availability of things like Yoga in the United States).  Lisa Hopkins pessimistically sees this ending as “wish fulfillment rather than realism,” particularly in terms of its lack of acknowledgement of Lalita’s and Darcy’s interracial relationship, which she claims would pose a serious problem in Indian culture (122).  She sees Chadha as “shying away” from the issue and offering a love marriage that filmically ends in India but which has potentially negative extra-narrative consequences for our heroine, who might have to live in a country she never wanted to or inherit a horrible mother-in-law (122).  And though the movie literally ends in India, with Darcy rejecting Western imperialism and marrying in an Indian ceremony, their life does not necessarily neatly end in India as Elizabeth and Darcy’s does at Pemberley.

However, perhaps Chadha is again taking recourse to the Bollywood tradition, offering a happy ending of what should be rather than what necessarily would be.  Kabir writes that Bollywood presents a “stylized form that operates outside the restrictions of reality,” full of “romantic dreams and a code of right and wrong” (3, 22).  He explains that Indian audiences know these films don’t represent real life, but instead love them for offering an “allegory of a perfect world.”  “It’s more than just happy endings,” he writes, “the stories are full of hope, showing that good eventually triumphs” (23).  Perhaps Bride and Prejudice is Chadha’s hope for a global union of cultures like that embodied in Lalita and Darcy’s entwined seating on the elephant, her portrait of the “perfect world” in which marriages are founded on love and cultural differences and global prejudices can be overcome and productively hybridized.

Adaptation end image

The final shots of the couple in each adaptation: cultural union in Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice, above, and personal and romantic development and partnership in Wright’s Pride and Prejudice below.


“Bride and Prejudice Press Pack.” pp. 1-11.

Cartmell, Deborah. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Relationship between Text and Film.  London: Methuen Drama, 2010.

Chadha, Gurinder, dir., and Paul Mayeda Berges, co-writer.  Bride and Prejudice.  Audio Commentary. Alliance Films, 2005.  DVD.

Dawtrey, Adam.  “Free-Wheeling Chadha Leads New London Helmers.”  Variety 396.6 (2004): B2.

Geraghty, Christine. “Jane Austen Meets Gurinder Chadha.” South Asian Popular Culture 4.2 (2006): 163-8.

—. “Narrative and Characterization in Classic Adaptations: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Pride and Prejudice.”  In Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.  15-46.

Hopkins, Lisa.  Relocating Shakespeare and Austen on Screen. Basingstoke, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Kabir, Nasreen Munni.  Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story.  London: Channel 4 Books, 2001.

Macnab, Geoffrey.  “Austen Power.” Sight and Sound 14.10 (Oct 2004): 36-7.

McFarlane, Brian. “Something Old, Something New: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on Screen.” Screen Education.40 (2005): 7.

Moggach, Deborah.  “How I Changed Pride and Prejudice as the Scriptwriter for the Film of Jane Austen’s Best-Loved Novel, Deborah       Moggach Rearranged some Scenes, Conflated Others and Pulled a Comb through the Original Dialogue. but She Knows that You Mess about with this Particular Story at Your Peril…” The Daily Telegraph: Sep 10, 2005.  19.

Mishra, Vijay.  Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire.  New York: Routledge, 2002.

“Pride and Prejudice Search Results.”

Wilson, Cheryl A. “Bride and Prejudice: A Bollywood Comedy of Manners.” Literature/Film Quarterly 34.4 (2006): 323-31.


Bride and Prejudice.  Dir. Gurinder Chadha.  Perf.  Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson.  Alliance Films, 2005.

 Pride and Prejudice.  Dir. Joe Wright.  Perf. Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden.  Focus Features, 2005.