Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is putting British cinema on the map. After her phenomenal success with crowd pleasing multicultural comedy Bend It Like Beckham, the Kenya-born filmmaker has turned her hand to crafting a hybrid Bollywood/Jane Austen romantic comedy musical in Bride & Prejudice. Taking Austen's classic 19th century novel, Chadha has updated it to modern-day India, London, and Los Angeles. And Colin Firth's nowhere to be seen...
Did you decide to make a Bollywood movie or a Jane Austen adaptation first?
Bollywood, Bollywood. But I needed a good story that everyone was familiar with so they wouldn't be freaked out by the Indian film language being foreign! So I went with the Jane Austen novel that we all did at school and that we all know and just started to Indianise it.
Was it something that you had to introduce your Indian cast to?
Some of them knew it, others didn't. Ash [lead actress Aishwarya Rai] didn't know it and so she had a crash-course, watching the BBC's drama series the night before she arrived. In some ways, she didn't want to read it because she didn't want it to sway her character. But you know, it doesn't really matter. We just had a test screening in New Jersey. In the focus group, only two people had heard of Jane Austen and only two people had ever heard of Bollywood! And everyone who was there loved the film!
Julia Roberts says Aishwarya Rai is the most beautiful woman in the world. Is that why you cast her?
That's one of the reasons, yes. But she's also a fine actress. But you know, regardless of the casting, the other great thing for me about this movie is that the Jane Austen society - both here and in America - are totally supportive of the film. For them it's about keeping Jane Austen alive and bringing her to new audiences around the world. They believe more people will read her novels because of the film.
Does the reaction to the film differ depending on whether the audience is familiar with Bollywood movies or not?
Not necessarily, no. I think everyone gets it now. I'm amazed by the fact that the reactions are almost exactly the same to it all around the world. People are just judging it as a film and as a love story. They're seeing it as a kooky take on a familiar story, using a bit of film language from somewhere else. It's got my stamp on it. That whole Beckham thing - you know that it's made by the same person. I think that's what people are responding to. It's that British-Indian-kind-of-combining-culturally-kind-of-weird-combo [laughs]. Look, it's the end of the day, all my articulacy has gone out the window!
Mr Darcy became something of a cult icon after Colin Firth played him in the BBC drama series. Was it daunting trying to find an actor to take the role?
Yes it was. That's why I wanted my Mr Darcy to be very different. I feel very sorry for whoever's playing Mr Darcy in the version that's being shot right now in Europe [director Joe Wright's version, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy]. That poor bloke has got a lot to live up to. They're doing a period piece, but for me it was different. Martin [Henderson, who plays Darcy in Bride & Prejudice] is playing an American and it's a totally different thing. My whole film doesn't bear any resemblance to that. I think Martin plays his part as a hotelier from America really well. He's a bit of a ****** at the beginning and then gradually we grow to like him.
You weren't ever tempted to cast Mr Firth then?
No. I did ask Mr Firth if he would like to play a cameo in one of the Bollywood songs, but he wasn't up for that. I wonder why?
How difficult were the huge Bollywood numbers to stage?
I surrounded myself with Bollywood people who knew what they were doing. I had a great choreographer [industry veteran Saroj Khan] and fantastic dancers. My job was to let them do what they did but according to my brief. So if ever I thought they were being too Bollywood, I'd bring it back to what I wanted. I constantly made it my own but used their talents at what they do best.
Were they surprised by the finished film? Do they see it as part of the Bollywood tradition or something else?
They see it as a hybrid, but they really love it because they see it as breathing fresh life into a stale Indian cinematic tradition.
Bride & Prejudice is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th October 2004.