Gurinder Chadha (Director-'Bend It Like Beckham')
"Bending The Rules"
Gurinder Chadha began her career as a BBC new reporter and later went on to direct award-winning documentaries for the British Film Institute, BBC and Channel 4. Gurinder’s first feature, ’Bhaji On The Beach’ won numerous International awards including jury prizes at Locarno and several audience favorite film awards. It received a BAFTA Nomination for "Best British Film of 1994" and she also won the Evening Standard British Film Award for "Best Newcomer to British Cinema".
In 1995, she directed ’Rich Deceiver’, a two-part drama for the BBC watched by 11 million viewers. Gurinder’s ’What’s Cooking?’, the Opening Night film of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, was the first British script to be invited to the Sundance Institute's Writer's Lab. The award-winning film - starring Alfre Woodard, Mercedes Ruehl, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedwick and Joan Chen - was voted joint audience award winner in the New York Film Critics' 2000 season (tied with ’Billy Elliot’). Gurinder won the award for Best British Director in the London Film Critics' Circle 2001 Awards.
’Bend It Like Beckham’, her brand new movie (the charming coming-of-age tale that features an intriguing look at Indian culture in England and its tepid association with soccer)was released in the UK on 480 prints on April 12, 2002, and earned over 11 million pounds at the UK box-office - the most ever for a British financed, British distributed film. The film topped the box-office charts in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, won audience favorite film awards at the Locarnom Sydney and Toronto film festivals, and received a European Film Academy Nomination for Best Film in the 2002 European Film Awards.
Chatting one-on-one with Gurinder Chadha, the fact that she is a 36 year-old Indian lady is hard to swallow as her broad, cultured West London accent overrides any and all outward appearances ! Gurinder is a very happy, bubbly young lady and full of life. She constantly smiles and even searches the interview room prior to the tape recording for some milk to put into my coffee ! Once all that was sorted out, I first passed comment that ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ had a Punjabi theme, yet the film was based around an East African Punjabi family (which is Indian), twice removed. Yet everyone – even Brits – that have seen it call it an “English film” ! Was this OK with her though? ”Well, I made ‘Bhaji On The Beach’ and I made this American film called ‘What’s Cooking’ which were both very well received, but got limited releases because they were kind of ‘Art House.’ And so I thought, sod this I want to make a film that a lot of people are gonna see. So, I was in England and I thought I wanna make the most commercial, multiplex, wide-appealing, mass-appealing British movie I possibly can, but from a different angle. It was also the time of the World Cup and everything in England was just going mad around football. I was seeing pubs just crammed with people, all kinds of people; girls and boys and I thought that it was all suddenly changing. Because only five, six years ago it was all hooligans in France and it was all a nasty, skin-heady element within the fans.
And all of a sudden things have changed and I thought that football is so the national psyche that that’s the way to do it. Take football AND put an Indian girl in the middle of that worlds ‘cause nobody will ever connect the two! And the other writer was mad on Manchester united and Ryan Giggs, in fact ! Not David Beckham ! I thought at the time when she first mentioned it that it didn’t fly for me, but now - ‘cause things are changing so much - well, that’s a really good idea.”
Did you have a genre in mind prior to filming ? ”I decided to make it a teen movie genre early on and so I set it in West London exactly where I grew up in Southall and made it extremely specific culturally, geographically, demographically, everything. And so rather than just have nondescript Indian family, I made them very much specific to what I was. You don’t need to know all that to enjoy the movie, but if you’re from Britain you get that. That way, it does translate and it becomes much more universal rather than making movies about types. It’s all those details that make it real and what has amazed me is just how well it did do in Britain. I was not expecting it to do as well as it did. When I first saw it assembled, I sat back and I couldn’t get over just how English it was,. But to me, somewhere inside me, I had become extremely English and the movie to me was really English. It was a collaborative pride thing. Here was a movie that was about Britain, maybe a slightly different version of Britain that most people have seen, but it was distinctly British, and very English.”
Did you have to Beckham’s approval to use his name ? ”Yes, I had to get Beckham’s permission to use his name. Luckily for us it was ’96 and we’d just lost very badly to the German’s and everyone was in mourning. But then in ’98, in the World Cup when that nasty Argentinean provoked David and he got sent off; and then England played terribly one man down, afterwards he was completely vilified. What happened after that was horrendous. Beckham became the public enemy number one with effigies of him outside pubs being hung. It was just horrible and I felt so bad for him, but at that point I had already focused in on him because of his ability to bend a ball. Which I thought was a great metaphor for what I wanted to do and that made me go after him even more. So, then we approached him he was like pleased that somebody liked him after all that had gone on and was open to it! So, basically, his whole reason for supporting it was because he’s a family man and he wants more families involved. But, he didn’t have anything to do with it really. He just sort of blessed it, but we said we wanted him to be in it, but he said he’d see how it goes. Then, when it was finished I set up a screening for him and Victoria in Manchester and luckily for me he really loved it and said he wanted to be in it. ”
So, what kind of an ‘actor’ was he when he did that cameo for you at the end of the movie ? ”Well, actually, that’s a lookalike,” she gentle laughs. ”What happened was he said that he really wanted to be in it and that she wanted to be in it, but then it was the European Champions League and Sir Alex Ferguson won’t let him go. He didn’t know which country he’d be in day to day depending on the results and she fell pregnant and was throwing up everywhere and so it just didn’t happen.”
Weren’t you totally gutted ?! ”Well, my thing is that as soon as it got leaked into the papers that Beckham was doing this film, and loved it so much that he actually wanted to be in it, as a result he would then have to have dialogue. So then we’d have to create a scene for him and I suddenly thought that all that would take away from what the film was actually about. I actually just like the fact that he just walks past and if he was to stop and say ‘Hello’ it would have been so cheesy,” she laughs. ”I mean, it’s still kinda cheesy already, but you kinda go along with it because it’s done in such good spirit, I think. But, I think that would have just been too over-the-top cheesy at the end.”
So, that wasn’t even the real Victoria either at the end ?! ”No, neither one of them. In fact, that woman who played Victoria she’s supposed to be a beast next to Victoria,” she loudly laughs. ”But, because they were both lookalikes I didn’t focus on either of them a lot.”
The “Indian obsession with marriage,” as you yourself once put it, is again coveted here with the football sometimes a side dish. Was it hard to balance the two whilst still paying fair tribute to both the national passions ? ”What I wanted to do was show that those two were the two ideals of that culture: be a nice Indian girl, learn how to cook and then go off and be a bride, or do you go off and wear shorts, show off your legs to all the blokes and be a footballer ?Those were her choices and at the top of the film she can have one or the other, but she can’t have both and during the course of the film they come together. And that’s why I inter-cut between the football and the wedding at the end to show that the two things that you thought were totally opposite actually can work very nicely.”
Looking back, when was it that you finally realized that you had succeeded in doing just that ? ”I think where it came together, and this was a very calculated thing, was when the women appear on the pitch, in the wall and that’s when the two worlds finally became one.”
Why was it such a big story-line to give Jess a scar on her leg ? “I’d seen Parminder in a play at the Oval in South London about four years previously and really liked her. She was a little tomboyish, but she could be really pretty as well, and then stroppy the next moment and I really liked that. So, I put her in the back of my head and when it came to do auditions and I auditioned her along with everyone else, but I was always measuring everyone against her.
I did two or three re-calls and finally I gave her the job and she was really thrilled, but the next day I gotta call from her agent saying there’s something I should know. She didn’t want to tell me this before, but she has a huge scar down her leg! And she didn’t tell me because she thought she was gonna lose the role, but she came in, I looked at it, she told me how she got it and we put it in the script ! So, what she told the coach is exactly what happened.”
Did Sir Alex Ferguson get involved due to the rights of the Man. Utd. clips ? ”No, because we didn’t get it from the FA, because it would have been to expensive. We got it from EUFA and so we cut Man. Utd. right out because that would have been a nightmare getting it from them.”
How easy was it digitally ‘transplanting’ Jess into those opening football scenes ? ”Not bad, but I was fully convinced that it wasn’t gonna work, because I haven’t done that much special effects. But, yeah it kinda works. It was Andy Cole that we took out and so it’s Beckham putting his arm round Andy Cole really.”
Did you have to get Cole’s permission then ? ”Nope, we just had to tell EUFA what we were doing and then they were like fine about it.”
So the scene went according to plan then ? ”Well, my problem though was that how I wrote it was that as soon as you saw this Indian girl you’d all laugh, right ?! But, no one laughed until much later and a lot of people don’t even laugh at all ! And that’s because what I didn’t anticipate was that I got John Motson in to do the commentary and he was so bloody brilliant that you don’t question him in anything he’s saying ! Because you would never doubt John Motson !”
Did you base this on the real-life Arsenal Ladies F.C. Indian player that was also offered a contract in the U.S. ? ”No, I had no idea. The only girl I knew played for Fulham Ladies and she was in her twenties. However, once I’d made the movie I was kinda shocked ‘cause all the papers were like ‘Where’s the real Jess?’ and they went out and searched for her and they found all these girls up and down the country. The other thing that’s shocking is that when the film came out in Britain we had the FA’s number on the press stuff and they said for four months they couldn’t handle all the calls of girls who’d come out of the movie and had wanted to learn how to play. And, I’ve just heard on www.bbc.co.uk there was a report from their Deli correspondent who said that after the craze of the film they’ve now arranged a football league in Deli ! So, now there’s all these women playing in India playing football that there never was before ! But, then I heard here in America that the women’s soccer team in the New York State area had taken a print of the film and were touring round schools and stuff to show girls and to encourage girls to get more involved.”
Getting Keira was obviously a huge scoop for you as she’s an incredible rising talent, but how did that come together? ”You know, she walked in the room and she was just fantastic. She walked in at 16 and she’s like so youth personified,” she laughs.
Did she still have her long hair at that time? ”She had long hair, yeah, so she had to have it cut. Which was a bit of a chore for her and I wanted it shorter than it was, but we compromised on that,” she laughs again. ”There was just something kinda great about her and she was full of life and it was obvious to see that she’s gonna do really well as she was hungry for it as well. What I really liked about her was that she was really natural. She wasn’t like ‘acting-acting’ she was really natural and off the cuff, which is very hard to act if you’re older.”
And how old was Parminder (‘Jess’) ? ”Parminder was 26 playing 18, so we had a lot of faith in Keira to help Parminder be younger.”
And how much football knowledge did they bring onto the set? ”None, they knew nothing about football so when I cast them I put them into three months training with a Coach. He runs about thirty of these schools in Britain called ‘Futbol Desalao,’ which is the Brazilian method of football training. It’s all about playing with the ball, ‘cause in England it’s all about getting rid of it! It was all the girls work in the film by the end. There were no doubles in the film, at all. It was all the girls, ‘cause all the other girls in the film are footballers. But, what happened with Parminder and Keira is that early on they were getting concussion from heading the ball and then Parminder hurt her little toe and just like freaked out. So, there was this complete block and their coach told her that she had to go through the pain; play through the pain and I told her that it was OK and that I would just get a double. But, as soon as I said that they were like, ‘Doubles, no way’ and then they both really worked hard and really went for it big time and then they really learnt how to do it.”
A BBC Radio News Reporter to Award-Winning Filmmaker. Is that an easy transition and, more importantly, why? ”Well, it was not always easy, but the point was when I was doing news I was in Birmingham and then I moved to London and basically it was all the same; all the same news over and over again. And also around that time there were some great musical fusion’s going on and I wanted to do something about that for the British Film Institute. You had to prove to them you had something to say and that you could make a film and they gave you 20,000 quid (English pounds) and then I wrote the script and told a story about the music.”
What was it called? ”I made a film called ‘I’m British But …’ and it’s about music, but I interviewed four young Indians: one from Scotland, one from Northern Ireland, one from England and one from Wales. So it was the first time that people had seen these dark-brown faces and I’d ask them if they saw themselves as being British and they’d say, (cue attempted Scottish accent) ‘Well, I’m British but I prefer to be called a Scottish Pakistani !’ So, that became my first film; my second generation Asian film and I got a lot of notoriety at a lot of festivals and stuff and from that. I was then encouraged to do the development for ‘Bhaji On The Beach.’ But that really set me on the path, because I had that voice that told me I could do this.”
Finally, I hear that your next project will be a ‘Bollywood’ version of ‘Pride & Prejudice’! What’s a ‘Bollywood’ version mean? ”’Bollywood’ hails from Bombay. It’s the Indian Film Industry that’s based in Bombay and they call it ‘Bollywood’ as opposed to ‘Hollywood.’ Basically, you know those crazy song and dance musicals that the Indians do, well, that’s a ‘Bollywood’ movie. They’re huge in England these days and they’re the films that are getting all the press more than any other Indian films. So, all of a sudden ‘Bollywood’s big business in England and even Andrew Lloyd-Webber has done a ‘Bollywood’ stage show, ‘Bombay Dreams’ ! But, basically, what I wanted to do was make a film (‘Pride & Prejudice’) which I read at school and turn that into like a musical. But it’s not a ‘Bollywood’ musical, it’s gonna be a British musical so that it’s a British movie, but the music in it will have a little bit of ‘Bollywood’ backdrop. It’s kind of ‘Hollywood’ meets ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or even ‘West Side Story’ ! It’s a complete upgrade and the cultural journey here, well, I don’t quite know where it’s taking me, but it’s gonna be really fun.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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