2002's Bend It Like Beckham turned Keira Knightley into a household name and handed Gurinder Chadha a Hollywood calling card that few could ignore. Now comes the tricky bit. The Kenyan-born, Southall-raised helmer might have cleared her overdraft, but what about that difficult follow-up? This film will either cement her reputation or prove that Beckham was nothing more than a lucky deflection.
Well, there's certainly no faulting her choice of story. Jane Austen has been all the rage since Colin Firth took his memorable dip and America is certainly primed for a Bollywood invasion. She's also done wonders with her £12 million budget, rattling across three continents (okay, Stoke Poges Golf Club stood in for Beverly Hills) and showering the audience with hugely impressive, multi-coloured dance routines.
All eyes, though, are on Chadha's lead - Aishwarya Rai, dubbed Queen of Bollywood and recently voted the world's most beautiful woman. It'll be interesting to see how she fares opposite Meryl Streep in next year's Chaos, but her light, frothy style and intoxicating pale-green eyes seem perfectly at home here - even if, as in all her films, she manages to get through the whole romance without so much as a kiss. Nadira Babbar and Nitin Ganatra wring out a few laughs too, as Lalita's clucking mother and unctuous suitor respectively.
Sadly, it's the non-Asian stars who seem most out of place - and not just for the obvious reasons. Martin Henderson's Darcy is clunking and shallow, while Daniel Gillies' Wickham is a lifeless sleazeball. Who'd want either of them?Mind you, they're not helped by the monotone script, co-written by the director's hubby Paul Mayeda Berges. If there'd been as much time spent on the details as there was on the big numbers, Chadha really could have been on to something.