No British film since The Full Monty has caught on around the world as has Bend it like Beckham, this crowd-pleasing charmer about an Anglo-Indian teenage girl torn between her parents’ Indian conservatism and her passion for soccer. Semi-autobiographical, the film established director Gurinder Chadha as one of the most sought after directors in Britain. About to shoot her latest film, a Bollywood version of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, PAUL FISCHER talked to the director as Beckham is about to hit the US
Paul Fischer:Can I ask you first up if your lead actress [Parminder K. Nagra] can really play soccer?
Gurinder Chadha: She went into training for three months and from nine until six every day with a coach, and I did that for three months. So it was really tough, because Keira Knightley got concussion a few times. So then I went in, and I said, you know what? You don’t have to do this. Don’t worry, we can get doubles. At which point, they turned around and said, “Are you nuts? No way are we going to get doubles. We are going to do it.” And then they just broke through the pain barrier and they did it.
P.F:Where did you find Parminder?
Gurinder:She was in a small play in South London, four years previously to when I made the film. And I saw her there, and said she was an up and coming actress, hadn’t done much at that point, and I just really, really liked her. Since then, she’d done more theatre, a bit of television, but this was her first movie role.
P.F:What made her unique?
Gurinder :I liked her face. I thought her face was great, and very honest and innocent.
P.F:What do you think of the comparison to Big Fat Greek Wedding?
Gurinder: I think that it’s a good comparison, because that’s the film that works with audiences and that’s what I wanted to do with this film. I wanted to make a film that entertained audiences and also, make them see the world from my point of view and from the point of view of someone who is Indian and English at the same time.
P.F:Is that why the film has travelled so well, and has been so successful in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, etc.
Gurinder :Well, in Britain it’s the most successful British financed British movie ever and I think it’s worked so well because it’s very culturally specific to Hanslow, to West London and it talks about, a world which is really mixed without going on about it, it talks about someone dealing with being Indian and English without really going on about it.
P.F:Yet being culturally specific, it’s still universal.
Gurinder :Yes, yes, because normally that world is shown as problems, a kind of cultural problem, or conflict, or a clash, or a racial problem, or always a problem, and this film is showing that world as just existing. And people working through those things, and coming out the other side with something positive to say. I think that’s what most people live their lives around the world now.
P.F:What’s the role of Indian women in today’s Britain? Are they the ones who are confused?
Gurinder :No one’s confused. Everyone is aware, and people are trying to hold on and protect elements that they think are good in terms of their traditions, but also elements that are good in terms of the world that they’re living in. Like my dad has had two daughters. And you know, the story was autobiographical, and I never played soccer, but I always did things differently; I refused to follow the pattern. So like, Jess’s mum wants her to cook and be a perfect kind of Indian. I refused to do that. I refused to wear Indian clothes, and I would always get out of cooking. And, guys, you know, whenever guests came, the men would sit at the table, and the women would have to serve them, and I would sit at the table as well. And everybody would be like, you can’t do that. And I got away with it, because I was the youngest. But at the same time, I was extremely outspoken, and I used to say, well mum, look, I’m not cooking, you know, it’s oppressive. You don’t even understand. It’s so sexist that you have to do it. And she would be like, “Well, you tell your motherinlaw it’s sexist, and you know, you tell your motherinlaw.”
P.F:Going back to your comment about you, that this character was based on many of your own acts of rebellion as a, as a child, how did that manifest itself in your desire to be a filmmaker?
Gurinder :Well I had no idea I was going to be a filmmaker so it just manifested in terms of just giving me space to do what I wanted, as opposed to being told that you have to be a doctor, which, my dad always wanted me to be. And like most Indian parents, I didn’t want to do that, my mum and dad wanted me to get married, you know, when I was in my early twenties, to a nice Indian boy, and I didn’t do that. So, when I said, well, I’m not going to do that, it was never like, you must do that, it was like, well, okay, what are you going to do? And I said, well, I don’t know yet, but I’m going to do this. So it was more that I was able to have a dialogue, and I wanted to show that in cultural situations, it’s not absolute. It’s not always you have to do this, otherwise you’re being, you know, you’re breaking this tradition, and we don’t want to see you anymore. It’s a process. Culture is a process. And when you go from being a first generation to a second generation, to a third generation or whatever, everybody goes through the cultural processes together. And, and it’s a journey.
P.F:As the British DVD is about to be released in the UK, what is on the there?
Gurinder :All the deleted scenes, and there’s me cooking some curry with my mum and my auntie behind me, sort of making sure I’m doing it right. And there’s a lovely kind of behind the scenes stuff and commentary.
P.F:Food is a recurring theme in your work. Is that partly because you, and it’s funny that you said as a kid that you refused to cook, did you just find an outlet for that, or why is food such a recurrent theme in your work?
Gurinder:I think because food is a really great codifier of culture. It is a, it’s a great way of expressing cultural things, you know, what you eat tells who you are. What you don’t eat tells you who you are. What you can cook and can’t cook tells you what kind of person you are. But for me, food is a really good way of getting to grips with who a character is. And I’ve used food very much, as a way of expressing who the mother is and what the daughter doesn’t want to be.
P.F.: I want to know what you think is the most important thing you’d like young girls to take away from this film?
Gurinder: I would like girls to walk away with their heads six feet tall, chests out, grinning from ear to ear, and going, wow. I can do anything.
P.F:How are you using this film’s commercialism, and what has that done for your career now?
Gurinder :Well, finally, after ten years of making movies, I finally made a movie that’s making some money and, what that really means is I don’t have to struggle so hard to get the next film made.
P.F:Are you working on a film right now?
Gurinder :Yes I am. Actually, what I’m working on right now is a Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice