[DISCLAIMER: I’m in no way a film critic nor do I aspire to be one. My reviews are solely the impressions I got from watching these films, which I probably liked because I like everything I watch with rare exceptions and I have a huge problem saying bad things about films. Especially Austen adaptations. I like ’em all. Well, I have issues with Laurence Olivier as Darcy but that’s for another post.]
I’ve had the opportunity in the past month to watch two of the most recent Austen movie adaptations. Coincidentally, both films are more of a modern retelling of the novels than a direct adaptation.
Aisha (2010) is a modernized version of Emma with a Bollywood twist, much like Bride & Prejudice (2004) did with Lizzie & Darcy’s story. It’s an interesting approach, made more difficult by the fact that the best adaptation (in my opinion) of Emma is already a modern retelling: I’m obviously talking about Clueless, the 1995 film starring Alicia Silverstone.
So we have the lively, rich Aisha (Sonam Kapoor), a girl who is trying to become an event planner, who thinks that she can match all her friends, since she is responsible for matching her aunt to a Colonel. I admit I couldn’t follow some of the family relationships because I am not used to Indian costumes – if, like Brazilians, they tend to call Aunt and Uncle close family friends that are not necessarily related to them. Even more intriguing is her relationship to Arjun (Abhay Deol) – the Knightley to Aisha’s Emma -, who is her neighbor and her brother-in-law’s younger brother whom she introduces to the audience as her best friend and her worst enemy.
Like Bridget Jones borrows more from the 1995 mini-series of Pride & Prejudice, Aisha borrows directly from Clueless instead of going directly into the novel. This becomes problematic, for instance, because Aisha’s best friend Pinky (Ira Dubey) – the couterpart to Clueless‘ Dionne – doesn’t exist in the novel, and needs to be dealt with. While in Clueless Dionne has boyfriend Murray and seems to accept Tai’s presence in their little clique quite well, Aisha’s focus on Shefali (Amrita Puri) puts a wedge between Aisha and Pinky, who feels left out. Also feeling left out is Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar) – a Mr. Elton-type wealthy boy who tries to fit in Aisha’s group of friends but ultimately gives up after being rejected by her. In an interesting twist, Pinky and Randhir bond over this rejection and eventually get together and the scene where Pinky breaks the news to Aisha is very similar to Lizzie finding out that Charlotte Lucas is going to marry Mr. Collins [see, people, Collins and Elton COULD be twins after all!].
The other problem comes from Aarti (Lisa Haydon), who works with Arjun and is clearly dating him although it is never explicit that their are together. Aisha is jealous of her from the start. She has the same function as Rebecca in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – that is to say, she is Louisa Musgrove trying to keep Cap. Wentworth and Anne Elliot apart. But since we know from the start whom Arjun will end up with, her character swiftly turns into Jane Fairfax and, after a party, she ends up with Dhruv (Arunoday Singh), this story’s Frank Churchill.
One thing in which this filme surprised me: Aisha’s reaction to finding out she is in love with Arjun is much more pro-active than, say, Emma’s or Cher’s. She does act weird around him at first, but finally she decides to go after him and tell how she feels – even if it fails miserably. It was interesting to see this sort of girl power moment, to be reminded a few scenes later of one of the Bollywood rules: no kissing (I know we have no kissing in Austen novels, and I know people don’t like when adaptations incorporate them, but it is unrealistic to expect that a modernization of one of the stories should skip such a fundamental part of relationships as we are used to, even more so in a film – the final kiss is, like, the most overused cliche ever. I mean, there’s drug use in this film, but NO KISSING!!!). Well, yay for girl power.
All in all, Aisha is a fun movie, with an upbeat soundtrack. I had some difficulties watching the filme because, unlike Bride & Prejudice, this one is not spoken solely in English, so there were parts that were hard to get even with subtitles. It is not as good as Clueless, but I had fun, which is the most important thing.
While visiting New York in the end of January, I got to see From Prada to Nada (2011) in the teather. God knows how long will it take to get to Brazil – if it gets here. So I could not waste the opportunity to see the film while there. I knew by their massive Twitter campaign that it was a Sense & Sensibility adaptation with a Latina twist.
What I got from From Prada To Nada is that it is not so much an adaptation but a story vaguely based on Sense & Sensibility. You can easily identify the Dashwood sisters in Mary (Alexa Vega) and Nora (Camilla Belle) Dominguez. Their sister-in-law Olivia (April Bowlby) is as empathetic as Fanny Dashwood, but her brother Edward Ferris (Nicholas D’Agosto) is (at least to my taste) a bit more assertive than Mr. Ferrars. Other characters are mashed into one (like Aunt Aurelia being both Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton) or visually deceptive (it took me a long time to realize that Wilmer Valderrama’s Bruno was supposed to be Col. Brandon and not Willoughby).
That in itself is not a problem for me. The issues I had were with the plot: while the struggles of the Dominguez sisters to adapt not only to a new life but to a whole new heritage their father preserved but never passed on was really well done, a few storylines were left unresolved or so rushed that I couldn’t understand if I got them right: it is never explained why Rodrigo (Kuno Becker) would have lied to Mary about his trip to Mexico (or, if it is, it was so rushed that I missed it). Also, the newly discovered brother Gabriel makes a huge life-changing decision after reading the letters their father left for him, which Mary gives him in the engagement party. However, we are never shown what was in those letters that affected him so much to the point of doing what he does after – in fact, he barely speaks, so it is hard to know what he feels or thinks.
Another thing that bothered me is the characterization of Nora: Elinor was sensible and pratical, but not dull. She is as pretty as Marianne, although not as outspoken. But here, while Mary is fun, popular and well-dressed (although Alexa Vega is borderline incorporating Lindsay Lohan in this role), Nora dresses like a matron and focuses on her professional life for reasons that are not at all clear. So, in a way, I can see why this time Edward had to be more energetic, but it still bothered me that Nora would only let go of her “issues” while drunk at her Aunt’s party.
I know Adam Spunberg didn’t like the film as much as I did and I do agree with him in some points (mostly that Wilmer Valderrama was definitely the best thing in the film, if such thing is possible), but since it was a Sunday ight in New York and I was looking to have a fun night with my sister, I let go of most plotholes and enjoyed. [Funny story, the following night I met Adam 🙂 ].
[Cross posted at Meet Jane Austen]