Archive for September 2012

Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?

Over lunch with friends this afternoon, we got to talking about our favourite books. Naturally, I stated mine as Pride and Prejudice, that enduring classic by Jane Austen. 

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I was just 8 or 9  years old. It was an abridged, illustrated version which helped me form mental images of the protagonists. A few years on, I discovered the original book in my father's bookshelf. There was no looking back after that. To say that I've read the novel a thousand times is an understatement. Each time I read it, I like it a bit more - if that is possible. 

Television and film has time and again given shape to this classic. Today I got to thinking that I should really do a post listing these and putting my personal take on it. 

Tarun Dhanrajgir
The very first time I saw a screen version of it was on Doordarshan, many years ago. Back when I was in the sixth standard. So that would be around 1986-87. Anybody remember a serial by the name Trishna? It was a 13 episode serial based on Pride and Prejudice that aired on Sundays. I was totally enthralled by this desi retelling of the classic. In the lead as Darcy was one Tarun Dhanrajgir. To my 12 year old self he was gorgeous! That he was a native of Hyderabad, my home town was a bonus. Near where I lived, there was this old mansion which was owned by 'Rai Bahadur Dhanrajgir' or something along those lines. Someone told me that Tarun Dhanrajgir lived there. I used to pass by the gate frequently in the hope that I would catch a glimpse of my heart throb. 

Sangeeta Handa
My present research indicates that the Dhanrajgirs were indeed an illustrious merchant family of Hyderabad who had risen to prominence under the patronage of the Nizam. A famous member of this family is Zubeida Begum who starred in Alam Ara. Also from this family is Rhea Pillai, known for her marriages to Sanjay Dutt and Leander Paes. 

The actress who played Elizabeth Bennett was Sangeeta Handa who later went on to act in A Mouthful of Sky (claiming to be India's only English soap opera) and a few other serials. 

Both these actors have faded away from the limelight. The only enduring name from this serial is that of Kittu Gidwani who played the role of Lydia Bennett and if I recall, did a fairly good job of it. 

The first English version of Pride and Prejudice I saw was on the erstwhile TNT channel. Made in 1940, it starred Lawrence Olivier as Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth. Although Olivier fits the image of Darcy very well, somehow I it doesn't sit fine with me. Greer Garson as Elizabeth was unremarkable. 

In 1995 the BBC version aired an adaptation of the classic in a 6 part mini series. The series starred Colin Firth as Darcy - a role that won him world wide recognition and critical acclaim. The series itself received positive response and a whole host of awards, notably the BAFTA Television Award for "Best Drama Serial", "Best Costume Design", and "Best Make Up/Hair" in 1996. Jennifer Ehle was honoured with a BAFTA for "Best Actress", while Colin Firth and Benjamin Whitrow lost their BAFTA nominations for "Best Actor" to Robbie Coltrane of Cracker Firth won the 1996 Broadcasting Press Guild Award for "Best Actor", complemented by the same award for "Best Drama Series/Serial". The serial was recognised in the United States with an Emmy for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special", and was Emmy-nominated for its achievements as an "Outstanding Miniseries" as well as for choreography and writing. Among other awards and nominations, Pride and Prejudice received a Peabody Award,Television Critics Association Award,and a Golden Satellite Award nomination for outstanding achievements as a serial. There is also a 1979-80 BBC version which I have not seen. 

The 2005 version with Kiera Knightley was disappointing. The cast assembled for the movie was great. Knightley was a good choice for Elizabeth. Donal Sutherland as Mr. Bennett was good and Dame Judy Dench as Lady Catherine de Burgh was outstanding. But somehow, even this wonderful ensemble of actors were not able to save the movie. Mathew Something for Darcy was disappointing. I do not know who this actor is although this is probably my own ignorance. And for some strange reason the film was poorly lit and everyone looked very grubby - as if they never had a bath! 

Gurinder Chadda's 'Bride and Prejudice' was AWFUL. The choice of Aishwarya Rai as Elizabeth was blasphemous. Playing Elizabeth Bennett would be a career high for any actress worth her salt. And to give it to this ice cube, this plastic doll was too much for me to take in. And secondly, why on earth was Darcy a gora?! Where is the clash of social strata that the story is known for? It just did not make any sense. Totally killed the story they did. 

As you can see, there have been varied versions and interpretations of Jane Austen's classic. My favourite version is the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth. Doordarshan's Trishna was also good - not because the production values were great, or the acting was great. But because it was the first time my favourite story was played out by real people and for the most part, the lead pair kind of came close to my mental images of Darcy and Elizabeth. 

Which version is your favourite? 

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