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: I’d 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? Q: Such as? How would you describe some of these differences between Bollywood and western movies?

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 wouldn’t 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 don’t have much money, daughters that need marrying off… very Indian! And the more I started working on it, the more I realised how pertinent Jane Austen’s writing of the late 1700s is to contemporary small-town India. And that’s when it all really started fitting and taking shape.

Q: What are the main differences between your film and Jane Austen’s book? A: Well, the setting of course! I didn’t want to just make it Indian, I wanted it to be international because I wasn’t 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 Ring’s 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 I’ve 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: they’re all having a bit of trouble with their luggage and traffic, and then you’ll notice the music goes down, the noises start coming up, you hear market sellers and animals and total chaos! That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen – after the opening sequence you’re supposed to be thinking “Oh my god, where the hell am I?!” Which is exactly what Darcy articulates.

Q: And there is clearly an attempt to show something of the ‘real’ 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 there’s cows walking around! Just by introducing the idea of animals – livestock walking around – 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 it’s not easy making something appear real. You’ve got to use visuals as well as noises and sounds. Quite often in Bride you’ll hear animals on the soundtrack but you won’t see them. It just helps to get that sense of a different time and space.

Q: Your films are often described as ‘feelgood’ movies but would you agree that there’s a sense of anger beneath the surface?

A: I think anger might be a little bit of a strong word, but I’m really pleased that you notice that. It’s... what it is…I’m not sure… I don’t 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 I’ve ever done is always about making whoever’s watching it think differently about the person on the screen. That’s not to say that they’re all big anti-racist statements, they’re 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. That’s what drives my work, it’s the engine behind everything and the reason why it moves. On top of that there’s the bodywork and upholstery and all the rest of it, and the bigger the budget the flashier the car, but that’s the heart of it underneath and then it’s 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 “Thank you, thank you.” But he kept saying “NO! You don’t understand! This film has changed my life!” 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 “Hey, okay, you’re Indian, right? Sikh, right, like that soccer movie?” And he’d reply “Damn right I am!” So for this guy, my film had made him suddenly visible in Texas to ordinary people, and that shook me. I wasn’t expecting anything like that.

Prior to that, I’d 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 “Great, Asian community out in force,” 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, she’d been crying actually, and she took my arm and said: “Ah, that was really, REALLY good.” I said “I’m so glad you enjoyed it,” and she looked at me and said “No no, I don’t think you’ve got any idea have you? After what’s 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.” 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 £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 it’s not ‘political’ with a capital ‘P’. I would emphasise how important it is to have an idea. You must have a big idea of what you’re 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 you’re trying to say and I think that the great thing about doing it my way is that you can do it gently, it’s a very inclusive style of film-making. Someone described me once as being ‘genially subversive’ and I think that’s exactly it. It’s 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 who’s asking the question. If I’m in a gathering of filmmakers, I’m first and foremost a British Indian; if I’m in a gathering of British Indians, I’m a woman director. There are so many sides to who I am that I change all the time. I’m about to make a big Hollywood studio movie but is that film going to be British or not? Of course it’s 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 “Gurinder, you’ve made India so proud!” And I have to remind them that I’m not from India, I’m from Southall. So that’s one reason in Bride that I wanted it to happen on three continents, to show that it’s very hard to make those definitions because ‘Indian-ness’ 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 you’ve got it all worked out?

A: Yeah yeah, the perfect marriage! On the whole, it works really well, and over the years (because we’ve written about six or seven scripts together now), we’ve both figured out what each other will like and won’t like. In a funny sort of way we both do our own stuff but we’ve also jumped over and focused on each others territories as well. In any script we’ve done there are always elements that are Paul’s and elements that are mine. I tend to be more on the nose about things, and he’s more subtle. I tend to go for the British ‘Carry-on-up-the-whatever’ gags, while he does things that sometimes are more poignant. He’s 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.

What’s brilliant about working with him is that he’s Japanese American, and he has a really interesting take on ‘Britishness’ and on British people. And the same goes the other way round, so when we write American he’s on the inside and I’m on the outside. I will suggest things from where I’m coming from, and he can either say “No no no no no, we would never do that!” or “Oh yeah, I never thought of looking at it that way.”

Q: And can you switch off from work and unwind together?

A: We have to work really hard at it. When you’re writing it’s fine because you can’t 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 you’re shooting, in production or promoting, your life is never your own, and that’s really hard because your life is never your own… times two. I’ve got to a point now where I don’t even answer the phone, I just refuse and turn it off. I’m encouraging Paul to do that more and more, because the more successful we get, the harder it gets. We’ve tried to plan specific breaks, to make more time for ourselves. I’ve started doing Yoga as a private thing which only I do and Paul does the gym and weights which only he does. So we’re aware of it and we try to accommodate it, but it’s 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 you’ve got to talk about it as well… 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 can’t really add anything except just talking about the technicalities of what happened on the day.

Q: So what’s next for Gurinder Chadha?

A: I’m going to be producing a film called The Mistress of Spices which Paul will direct. That will be his first feature so it’s really exciting. It’s 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. It’s all about a young girl who really wants to be a soldier and she’s really good at sword-fighting but she’s 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. It’s much bigger and better than the original TV series, and for me it’s fantastic because it’s like a big Boy’s Own-style adventure only with a girl in the lead. And it’s 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. We’re speaking to a number of actresses for the lead role, but I’m not allowed to tell you who [internet rumours suggest Keira Knightley or Lindsay Lohan]. We start shooting next Spring.

Matt Connell