Reading (and Watching) Pride and Prejudice in India

The complete works of Jane Austen

Like most teenagers in India who enjoyed the English classics, Pride and Prejudice came into my life. It prompted me to borrow the Complete Works of Jane Austen from the library and to read all her novels. But if you were to ask me to recall the plots today, Pride and Prejudice is the one that has etched itself most clearly in my mind. 

This could also be because I had to study this novel as part of my English Honors program in college. I recall the name of the teacher who took up this book but can’t remember many insights that she left me with.

What comes to mind is that she spoke of it as a “drawing room novel,” as a lot of the action indeed takes place in these various home settings, starting with that of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice.

But can one fault the teacher? Jane Austen did write the book in something of a bubble, after all. If there is a historical context to a novel, a teacher can probably reference it for students to think about it. Pride and Prejudice was devoid of any such allusions, except for being referred to as a novel of manners and satire.

Jane Austen wrote with her powers of observation about the world around her, with a subtle critique of the prevalent social mores of her time.

Studying the history of English Literature in India was a very important part of my Honors program.  An entire paper was devoted to this, and Legouis and Cazamian’s History of English Literature almost became like a Bible for me throughout those years. 

Though many of us didn’t particularly care for having to delve into British history, as it was linked with those periods, it was clear that the writers were influenced by their times. For many of us, Pride and Prejudice is primarily a romance, and interestingly, it was written in the Romantic Period.

Elizabeth Bennet, as the protagonist, is my favorite character, as she was for Jane Austen (and legions of Jane Austen aficionados).  Fitzwilliam Darcy is a close second; the fact that after all the pride and the prejudice, they’re able to get together is such a relief to the reader. 

The famous opening lines of the novel, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” is still adapted by writers across the world to convey multiple meanings, including political ideas.

 

The Big Fat Indian Wedding

In a country like India where marriages are still arranged, the Big Fat Indian Wedding is very much a part of the culture. In a land of many languages, communities, and creeds, parents are always keen that their offspring choose within their station, though no one minds upward mobility — just like Mrs. Bennet.

Matrimonial websites are now replacing family matchmakers and wedding bureaus, and many have mushroomed online, based upon community, religion, caste, and perhaps even sub-sect. The amount of information provided for matchmaking is mind boggling. 

Some amount of subterfuge does form part of the experience, as families are probably reluctant to share job details, especially the salary, more so when it comes to girls.

A friend told me about how she had pegged down her daughter’s position and emoluments for fear of boys and their families being daunted by a woman, who will expect equality in the marriage, which in India’s patriarchal society, is still a distant dream.

Luckily for the daughter, the deception didn’t have to continue for long, as she met and fell in love with a European colleague while on a foreign posting and they lived happily ever after, but not before the groom’s family came down and celebrated the Big Fat Indian wedding in her hometown.

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Pride and Prejudice 1995 miniseries

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Miniseries & Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice
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Trishna: Pride and Prejudice for the Indian audience

Is it little wonder then that TV serial makers and filmmakers saw the potential of Pride and Prejudice and opted for remakes to suit an Indian audience?

When India’s national channel, Doordarshan, got into commercially broadcasted serials and movies, a black-and-white (color television was yet to make its entry) adaptation of Pride and Prejudice slipped into our living rooms and charmed the nation. 

Called Trishna and made in Hindi, the serial kept to the storyline of the original novel. I was completely enamored of Rekha, the Indian Elizabeth Bennet (played by Sangeeta Handa) and even more so by the dishy Tarun Dhanrajgir, who is called Rahul. The essence of Darcy was so well captured by this actor that one can almost imagine that Austen had created her character for this Indian Rahul. 

The serial ran for just one season of 13 episodes, each eagerly awaited and subsequently discussed in detail with other fans.

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Bride & Prejudice

Bride & Prejudice is available for streaming on Amazon*
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Bride & Prejudice

Later in 2004, the British Indian filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha, released an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice titled Bride and Prejudice, filming the story in English. 

Buoyed by the success of her soccer film, Bend It Like Beckham, the director ambitiously cast Aishwariya Rai, the famous actress and one-time Miss World as Lalita Bakshi, the Elizabeth Bennet character. The American actor Martin Henderson played the role of Will Darcy, a Los Angeles hotelier.

Sparks fly when the couple meets at a wedding in Amritsar, India. As she did it with the very successful Bend It Like Beckham, Chadha used her exposure to the East and the West to make a heady blend of the two, with the characters moving from India to London to Los Angeles.

The picture captures all the pageantry, fanfare, and colors of India in exaggerated fashion, with the characters breaking into song at the slightest provocation — the film is styled as a musical. I found the televised serial Trishna much more interesting, but many enjoyed Chadha’s interpretation of the novel. It may have even contributed to tourism, inspiring Western viewers to experience Indian culture firsthand.

Though ostensibly simple, even the mere title of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, packs a wealth of meaning. In addition to romantic entanglements, pride and prejudice — governed by the ego — are responsible for the many complications of human relationships.

Contributed by Melanie P. Kumar: Melanie is a Bangalore, India-based independent writer who has always been fascinated with the magic of words. Links to some of her pieces can be found at gonewiththewindwithmelanie.wordpress.com.

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