* CONTAIN SPOILERS
Pardes is a Bollywood-style movie loosely based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult. The movie is in Hindi/English with English subtitles and lots of cheesy musical segments. It tells the tale of Kishorilal, a wealthy Indian now living in Los Angeles who returns to India to visit his old friend, Suraj. Kishorilal becomes enchanted with Suraj’s daughter, Ganga, and proposes a marriage between Ganga and his son, Rajiv. However, back in L.A., Rajiv is a westernized, obnoxious brat who has no interest in India or Indian girls. So Kishorilal enlists the help of his adopted son, Arjun, to convince Rajiv to marry Ganga. Arjun is loyal and respectful of his father, and carries out his wishes. He spends a lot of time trying to convince Rajiv and Ganga of all the reasons they should be in love and get married. Rajiv comes around, but doesn’t see any reason to stop behaving badly even though he is engaged. Ganga turns to Arjun for comfort and along the way the two become very close. Kishorilal disapproves of their friendship and sends Arjun away, but nothing will stop Arjun from loving Ganga.
I wasn’t sure it if I was going to enjoy a Bollywood take on Tristan and Iseult even though I really liked Bride and Prejudice which is a Bollywood adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. However, Pardes was a fairly light, funny movie with two engaging major characters. If I have any complaint the movie was super long, so I started skipping some of the musical numbers. I have to mention the movie is from 1997 and full of bad 90s fashion that made it even more fun to watch.
At first I didn’t like the heroine, Ganga who was played by Mahima Chaudhary. I thought she was being way too cutesy and was annoyed how she yelled her dialogue to demonstrate how happy and free her character was supposed to be. But Ganga has a tough time once she is promised to Rajiv and as a result, she has to quickly grow up and come to grips with the changes her arranged marriage will bring to her life. So I could appreciate the character’s development and unexpected depth.
In contrast, I immediately liked Arjun who was played by Shah Rukh Khan. In his first scene with Kishorilal, Arjun demonstrates he is honourable, obedient and trustworthy. He does what he is asked, even though he knows Ganga will pay the price for his lies about Rajiv. But even though he deceives Ganga, it’s hard not to like Arjun and root for him as the hero. He never makes a romantic move on Ganga, but instead consistently treats her with respect and kindness like a gentleman.
The movie isn’t a replica of the original Tristan and Iseult story. Instead Pardes takes some of the most familiar elements from the legend to create its own story. Some familiar themes are the love triangle, the hero struggling between duty and love, and the orphan son-father relationship. The result is a timeless story that was popular when it was released and is still much loved today.