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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kandukondain Kandukondain--Sense and Sensibility, Bollywood style

Ahh, Jane Austen. Thou'rt so infintely adaptable. Much like your fore-daddy, Bill Shakespeare, you can transcend time place and space* and be moved to a Beverly Hills high school, Scarsdale, or in this case, Madras, India. Yes, Mizz JA's tales can be plopped anywhere where there's a social code or a class system and still function. I guess that means that basically, she works everywhere. Even in supposedly status-free hippie communes (can you imagine Emma being a know-it all flower child? I can.)

Anyhow, always in search of the perfect modern adaptation of a classic work, and hoping for a repeat of the wondrous experience that is and forever will be Bride and Prejudice, we rented Kandukondain Kandukondain, the Bollywood adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The movie stars the stunning Aishwarya Rai and Tabu, of Bride and Prej and The Namesake respectively (so in other words, the only two Bollywood actresses I know) as the Marianne and Elinor Dashwood characters.

The verdict? In short, it was a lovely film and the actors and actresses were completely fantastic, but it couldn't hold up to Ang Lee's adaptation of the novel. The plot rambled too much, and it lacked those social back-and-forths that give Austen her oomph. I know it's a different form of movie, but Austen doesn't get its zest from plot and plot alone. The tension wasn't amped up as much as it could have been. The best part of the movie was the sisters-- they played off each other perfectly and summoned the spirits of their literary inspirations.

Austen-purism aside, there's something so wonderful and vital about those Bollywood music scenes where the couples wear flowy clothing and dance freely, in front of beautiful natural backdrops and across the turrets and papapets of castles and ruins. It's something no US director could do unironically. At the risk of projecting my Western understanding onto the form, those scenes hearken back to what Romantic with a capital R is all about. Shelley would be proud. As would Kate Bush.

*[Here was a woman about the year 18oo writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at Antony and Cleopatra; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own]


  1. Oohh! Thanks for writing this review - the film is on my netflix list but I've been a bit skeptical. I loved Bride & Prejudice too though, so I think I will enjoy this one. I did not realize Ash starred in it as well!

  2. Anonymous10:24 PM

    I own this film, a decision I made after incurring too many late fees at the library, and love it! Jane's spirit is alive in the two sisters in an Indian context: The eldest is resigned to duty and aspires for an arranged marriage, while the younger wants love to hit her like lightning. The characters are well thought-out and the musical numbers are like icing on a cake. I was surprised how often the film made me laugh- I had thought that all Bollywood films were contrived and overbearing before this. I adore that Jane's story is revived once again in a refreshing new way.

  3. Anonymous5:24 PM

    Thought I’d point out that this movie is a tamil language movie and hence is not a Bollywood movie. Bollywood (which translates into Bombay’s[now Mumbai] Hollywood) corresponds to hindi language films. The tamil industry is referred to as Kollywood (!). There are some really classy films that come from that part of the country but sadly overshadowed by bollywood. Sorry to be pedantic - didn’t mean to but thought I’d point it out!

    Some great recent titles from Kollywood include :

    Kannathil Muthamittal
    Nayakan (which was based on Godfather)

    Sure you’d enjoy them too.