Due for release 8th October Bride and Prejudice is hitting all the headlines.Here we have an interview with Director Gurinder Chadha also famous for his film Bend It Like Beckham which went on to be a huge box office hit.Q: Bride and Prejudice is your first Bollywood-style film. How did the project come about?
A: Iâd been wanting to make a British-style Bollywood film for quite a while. I had attempted to make one in 1996 but I was working with an Indian producer who wanted to make quite an Indian one whereas I was more interested in doing something more British, so in the end that project fell apart.Q: And then the whole Bollywood explosion happened?
A: Oh, just all the singing and dancing, big musical numbers, bright colours, big emotions! I thought at least if the story was something familiar, people wouldnât get so freaked out by all that stuff!Q: And Pride and Prejudice seemed like a natural choice?
A: I was washing up one day when I had the idea: why not take the most fantastic love story ever written? It was about a big family, they donât have much money, daughters that need marrying offâ¦ very Indian! And the more I started working on it, the more I realised how pertinent Jane Austenâs writing of the late 1700s is to contemporary small-town India. And thatâs when it all really started fitting and taking shape.Q: What are the main differences between your film and Jane Austenâs book? A: Well, the setting of course! I didnât want to just make it Indian, I wanted it to be international because I wasnât interested in making a film just in India [the film is set in Amritsar, London and Los Angeles]. I wanted to update the Bollywood genre with my own vision and the way I see the world, which is much more international than nationalistic. Hopefully in focusing on the whole Indian diaspora element and by making Mr Darcy [The Ringâs Martin Henderson] American it also highlights the debate about first world/third world and him being Eurocentric.
Q: The opening of the film seems deliberately like an introduction to India and to Indian films. Is that intentional?
A: Totally, totally intentional. The opening titles of the film are very Indian: every Bollywood movie always starts with a religious icon, and Iâve started with the Golden Temple in Amritsar so you know you really are in India as opposed to Brick Lane or something. It starts with lush fields and seemingly romantic images of India, but then the foreigners arrive: theyâre all having a bit of trouble with their luggage and traffic, and then youâll notice the music goes down, the noises start coming up, you hear market sellers and animals and total chaos! Thatâs exactly whatâs supposed to happen â after the opening sequence youâre supposed to be thinking âOh my god, where the hell am I?!â Which is exactly what Darcy articulates.
Q: And there is clearly an attempt to show something of the ârealâ India, more so than in most Bollywood films.
A: Indian films never show cows. When you go to India, the most noticeable thing is the cows. Everywhere you look thereâs cows walking around! Just by introducing the idea of animals â livestock walking around â suddenly makes it more real. I mean, obviously movies are not real: they always take a place, they reduce it, they create a different reality and they clean things up. Things can look awful in real life but on film they always look great, so itâs not easy making something appear real. Youâve got to use visuals as well as noises and sounds. Quite often in Bride youâll hear animals on the soundtrack but you wonât see them. It just helps to get that sense of a different time and space.
Q: Your films are often described as âfeelgoodâ movies but would you agree that thereâs a sense of anger beneath the surface?
A: I think anger might be a little bit of a strong word, but Iâm really pleased that you notice that. Itâs... what it isâ¦Iâm not sureâ¦ I donât often talk about the films like this, but basically all my films are about racism and prejudice. They might be dressed up as comedy but everything Iâve ever done is always about making whoeverâs watching it think differently about the person on the screen. Thatâs not to say that theyâre all big anti-racist statements, theyâre just about humanising people who are different and showing you people in a different light and showing you people that you thought were different to you but actually were very similar to you. Thatâs what drives my work, itâs the engine behind everything and the reason why it moves. On top of that thereâs the bodywork and upholstery and all the rest of it, and the bigger the budget the flashier the car, but thatâs the heart of it underneath and then itâs dressed up in different ways.
Q: And in your writing you find that laughter is the best fuel for the engine?
A: I use humour a lot because humour is a great equaliser. Everyone laughs at the same things if you set them up properly, and that makes everybody equal. At the end of the day, I see my job as being there to entertain as well as inform and provoke.
Just on that point actually, a couple of things have happened since I made Bend it Like Beckham. Firstly, I met a Sikh guy from Texas who was praising the film and I was like âThank you, thank you.â But he kept saying âNO! You donât understand! This film has changed my life!â And then he told me that before the film came out people used to think he was an Arab terrorist, and since Beckham people would come up and say âHey, okay, youâre Indian, right? Sikh, right, like that soccer movie?â And heâd reply âDamn right I am!â So for this guy, my film had made him suddenly visible in Texas to ordinary people, and that shook me. I wasnât expecting anything like that.
Prior to that, Iâd gone to a screening of Beckham in Manchester, not long after the Oldham race riots. They told me the cinema was packed so I thought âGreat, Asian community out in force,â but actually the majority of people were English. And this was before the film had been released I think, so I just thought it was incredible: lots of kids wearing Manchester United shirts, lots of pensioners, just a real wonderful mix. Afterwards people were coming out smiling and this mum came up to me, sheâd been crying actually, and she took my arm and said: âAh, that was really, REALLY good.â I said âIâm so glad you enjoyed it,â and she looked at me and said âNo no, I donât think youâve got any idea have you? After whatâs been going on round here, that is just the best thing you could have done, because what you showed us is that all anyone ever wants is the best for their kids.â All anyone ever wants is the best for their kids. That was just so touching and I welled up because that was what she had got out of the film as a mum living in an area with so much tension and problems.
For me, those two isolated moments mean more than the Â£75 million box office or anything. Forget all that, because those two moments for me show the political reach of films and filmmaking.
Q: So would that be your advice to young filmmakers? To find something worth writing about?
A: Yes absolutely, even when itâs not âpoliticalâ with a capital âPâ. I would emphasise how important it is to have an idea. You must have a big idea of what youâre trying to say underneath it all because people WILL get it, whether they want to admit it subconsciously or consciously. Whether you do it covertly or overtly, people will go away with an ideology, and with every film they go away with something, no matter how crass it is. So as a filmmaker I think you have to know what it is youâre trying to say and I think that the great thing about doing it my way is that you can do it gently, itâs a very inclusive style of film-making. Someone described me once as being âgenially subversiveâ and I think thatâs exactly it. Itâs about being genial whilst being subversive and political, and that works for me.
Q: How do you identify yourself? A British Indian filmmaker? A woman filmmaker?
A: For me, that question always depends on whoâs asking the question. If Iâm in a gathering of filmmakers, Iâm first and foremost a British Indian; if Iâm in a gathering of British Indians, Iâm a woman director. There are so many sides to who I am that I change all the time. Iâm about to make a big Hollywood studio movie but is that film going to be British or not? Of course itâs going to be British, of course it will be British Indian-influenced, but it will inevitably be described as an American movie.
Q: But you are definitely a role model for British Indians.
A: Interestingly, in India now, people are wanting to claim me as their own. They call me an Indian filmmaker, and politicians have come up to me and said âGurinder, youâve made India so proud!â And I have to remind them that Iâm not from India, Iâm from Southall. So thatâs one reason in Bride that I wanted it to happen on three continents, to show that itâs very hard to make those definitions because âIndian-nessâ itself is such a diverse thing. Ultimately though, I do see myself more as a British Indian director first, and a woman after that.
Q: How do you find working alongside your husband [screenwriter Paul Mayeda Berges]?
A: Well, writing together generally works really well, so long as he writes what I say! [Laughs.]
Q: Sounds like youâve got it all worked out?
A: Yeah yeah, the perfect marriage! On the whole, it works really well, and over the years (because weâve written about six or seven scripts together now), weâve both figured out what each other will like and wonât like. In a funny sort of way we both do our own stuff but weâve also jumped over and focused on each others territories as well. In any script weâve done there are always elements that are Paulâs and elements that are mine. I tend to be more on the nose about things, and heâs more subtle. I tend to go for the British âCarry-on-up-the-whateverâ gags, while he does things that sometimes are more poignant. Heâs a much more sensitive person than me! On the other hand, I think sometimes his characters are too nice, and I try and dirty them up a bit. He has a problem with that because he never sees the bad side of anybody, he always sees the positive side. So generally the only time we ever disagree is on how ugly we make people, in terms of their characters.
Whatâs brilliant about working with him is that heâs Japanese American, and he has a really interesting take on âBritishnessâ and on British people. And the same goes the other way round, so when we write American heâs on the inside and Iâm on the outside. I will suggest things from where Iâm coming from, and he can either say âNo no no no no, we would never do that!â or âOh yeah, I never thought of looking at it that way.â
Q: And can you switch off from work and unwind together?
A: We have to work really hard at it. When youâre writing itâs fine because you canât write all day: you have to stop at a certain time and physically get away from the computer. The hard thing is numerous phonecalls and the work of film that carries on beyond a certain time. When youâre shooting, in production or promoting, your life is never your own, and thatâs really hard because your life is never your ownâ¦ times two. Iâve got to a point now where I donât even answer the phone, I just refuse and turn it off. Iâm encouraging Paul to do that more and more, because the more successful we get, the harder it gets. Weâve tried to plan specific breaks, to make more time for ourselves. Iâve started doing Yoga as a private thing which only I do and Paul does the gym and weights which only he does. So weâre aware of it and we try to accommodate it, but itâs not easy and we have to work at it.
Q: And I guess this is the hardest part of the job? All the interviews and promotion?
A: Yes, because you want to put it to bed and you do sort of put it to bed, but then youâve got to talk about it as wellâ¦ all the time. The more I make films, the more I feel less inclined to talk about them and just let people watch them. I feel that the pictures are telling the story and I canât really add anything except just talking about the technicalities of what happened on the day.
Q: So whatâs next for Gurinder Chadha?
A: Iâm going to be producing a film called The Mistress of Spices which Paul will direct. That will be his first feature so itâs really exciting. Itâs a magical realism movie based on a novel. And I start shooting next spring the prequel to I Dream of Jeannie, a big summer blockbuster for Columbia Pictures which is all set in Arabia 200BC. Itâs all about a young girl who really wants to be a soldier and sheâs really good at sword-fighting but sheâs not allowed to do it. Basically she gets into trouble and the king turns her into a genie and she ends up spinning round space and then turns up in 2004. Itâs much bigger and better than the original TV series, and for me itâs fantastic because itâs like a big Boyâs Own-style adventure only with a girl in the lead. And itâs an opportunity for me to work on lots of special effects and action stuff in a way that I was never ever going to be able to do. Weâre speaking to a number of actresses for the lead role, but Iâm not allowed to tell you who [internet rumours suggest Keira Knightley or Lindsay Lohan]. We start shooting next Spring.