Following the success of the movie adaptation of Austin's Pride & Prejudice (Bride & Prejudice), Indian filmmakers have gone back in time to recreate another classic piece of English literature from the author.
Sonam Kapoor will take on the lead in a modern retelling of the story, titled Aisha, which will be set in Delhi.
Gwyneth Paltrow famously played Austen's historic heroine in 1996's Emma and the role has been played on TV in Britain by Kate Beckinsale, Romola Garai and Doran Godwin.
But the new Bollywood version has upset Indian purists, who believe moviemakers should be mining homegrown classic literature before looking overseas for ideas.
Leading U.S. Hindu statesman Rajan Zed says, "India is rich in literary and folk traditions and had an abundance of masterpieces readily convertible for films. Why remake an oft-repeated story, set in a foreign land, for Indian audiences?"
Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) is a charismatic young singer-musician who comes to a small--but very glittery--Indian town. He meets up with a beautiful prostitute (Rani Mukherjee) who falls for the lanky Elvis-influenced singer but who keeps him at arm's length to protect his innocent charm. But she helps him find a place to stay with a lonely old woman (Zohra Sehgal quite spry despite being 95 years old) who begins to love him as son. Raj's inherent happiness infuses everyone around him as we see in a variety of song-and-dance numbers but everything changes when he meets the remarkably gorgeous Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) one night as she stands on a bridge in the rain. She waits for her missing lover a man who has promised to return to her on the one-year anniversary of their parting. That moment will happen in a few days' time; meanwhile Raj woos her each night and falls madly in love with her. As the fateful night approaches the big question looms: Will Sakina change her heart and eschew her mysterious lover for Raj or will our hero's heart be broken? Saawariya is the debut film for both the leading actors Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor but it is not the first touch of the film industry for either. He is the scion of India's most famous acting family and he's a natural charmer with his cute visage and lanky yet muscular build. In fact there's even a cheesecake sequence in the film the centers on him as he lip-synchs a wistful romantic tune while wearing a sheer sarong draped around his private parts. He's definitely good eye candy but he pales next to the luminous beauty of Sonam Kapoor she of a distant branch of the same illustrious family. As the shy and chaste Sakina the actress merely has to appear and look into the camera and moviegoers feel like swooning. Her dark eyes light-brown skin and perfect features make it impossible to look at anyone else on the screen; she is completely mesmerizing. The problem with the film is not with these two obviously talented actors. Instead it comes from the form of the film an obviously staged musical fantasy that owes much of its look to Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge. While often visually arresting the fake sets and canned music are frequently jarring and add to the general feeling that we are watching a music video rather than a fully fleshed out romance. Consequently it's hard to take anything that happens in the film to heart as it all seems like a faux flick. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an award-winning Indian director who conceived Saawariya as what he calls “an exotic love story.” Based on a Fyodor Dostoyevsky short story his film takes that Russian tale of unrequited love and transforms it into a musical romance filled with songs that sound vaguely Western vaguely Indian and are completely corny--in any language. He has fashioned a cartoonish film one that never quite draws us into the belief that Raj truly loves Sakina. It's a sort of “romance light” flick looking pretty but without any emotional substance which means that once the novelty of seeing the stylized sets hearing Indian songs and reading the subtitles wears off Saawariya becomes a bit of a slog toward the not-too-surprising dénouement. Touted as the first Bollywood film to come to American under the auspices of a major American studio (Sony/Columbia Pictures) unfortunately Saawariya is probably not the movie that is going to cause a sudden surge in fascination with all things Indian. But considering how many films the Indian film community churns out every year it is likely to not be that last one to arrive on our shores. Let's hope the next one will be a more palatable offering.