-By David Noh

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What emerges most strongly in Bride & Prejudice is the undying strength of Jane Austen's original novel, Pride and Prejudice, which has provided the basic source material. Her tale of the Bennett family, with its passel of marriage-hungry daughters, always manages to compel, even in the unlikeliest of adaptations. Gurinda Chadha's film, set in a small town in India, couldn't be a further stretch from Austen's British locale, but, as overwrought in Bollywood style as it is, it still provides some diversion. The insertion of musical numbers into the plotline can be alternately charming or downright intrusive, depending on the songs' highly varying quality, as well as the dubbed voices of the performers.

The film's chief asset is Aishwarya Rai, possibly the most beautiful woman on the screen today, who, as Lalita, the eldest daughter, is sexy and appealingly comic, even emerging from those daffy musical numbers she has been genre-compelled to perform with poise intact. Not much chemistry, however, is generated between her and the innocuously handsome Martin Henderson, as her combatively romantic version of a Darcy (here an obnoxious American yuppie), but Daniel Gillies, as the rotter Wickham, does provide some real dash and allure. The other actors perform their cartoonish roles, well, cartoonishly.

But Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) almost ruins all her hard-won audience goodwill with the introduction of the "coconut" (i.e., brown on the outside, white on the inside) Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), her take on Austen's silly ass of a suitor, Mr. Collins. Ganatra plays him in such a voraciously vulgar manner, food falling out of his yawping, inane mouth at the family table, that you just recoil from the screen completely. He's much too easy a comic target, and the original character's overweening pompousness is replaced by so much grossness, which, unfortunately, is the direction Chadha chooses more often than not.

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