Getting Direct With Directors...
Gurinder Chadha on the set of Bride & Prejudice with Martin Henderson
No.22: Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha was born in Kenya and moved to Britain with her parents in 1961. After studying at the University of East Anglia, she became a broadcast journalist for the BBC, made several documentaries about the British-Asian experience and directed her first feature film, comedy-drama Bhaji On The Beach, in 1993. A quick stint in Hollywood for the underrated Thanksgiving comedy What's Cooking followed in 2000. Then she returned to the UK for hit comedy Bend It Like Beckham. Her latest film, Bride & Prejudice, successfully merges the Bollywood musical with Jane Austen.

Why did you become a director?

I had no idea I was going to be a director. I decided to get involved in the media, get behind the camera and try and control images of people like me so that they were a little more realistic and a bit more honest. I went from radio journalism to TV, then fell into filmmaking through a British Film Institute new directors scheme. I had no idea I'd ever be making films so I'm eminently grateful to fate or whatever's brought me here so I can keep doing what I set out to do.

If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?

If I wasn't me then I'd like to have the talent to be a singer-songwriter. I love Bruce Springsteen! I wish I had the talent to write poetically and sing [laughs]. That's thrown you hasn't it?

What other director would you like to see at work?

Oh bloody hell, I've never been asked that in my life! I don't know actually. I think if any director was on the set of any other director's film, it'd be really uncomfortable for both of them. Having said that, I quite like Tim Burton. He's a maverick guy and very different from me. I'd be very interested to see how he does what he does.

The Story Of The Weeping Camel

What was the last movie that you paid to see?

It was one of the best movies I've ever seen in my life: The Story Of The Weeping Camel. It's a bit of a hard sell, but it's totally worth it. I didn't know anything about it when I went to see it. I hadn't read anything about it, I'd just been told by someone that I should go and see it. I saw the poster and thought the camel looked really cute but I wasn't convinced. When I go to the movies, I want to see a 'movie' movie. But Paul, my husband, dragged me along. I went in and it was just fantastic. The way it opened up layer after layer was just amazing.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

Well it's not really a very interesting answer, but I did walk out of The Day After Tomorrow because it was just too loud and it was hurting my ears. Plus there was a Bollywood film starting in another cinema in Leicester Square and I wanted to make sure I got the beginning of that!

Do you believe in God?

For most of my life I've been saying no to that question. But, call it age or whatever, I do believe in something now. I don't think it's a white man with a big beard, but I do think that there are forces around us that we don't necessarily understand. I do believe in fate. That's a very Indian thing, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason and what goes around comes around. I suppose what I'm saying is that I believe in karma. If you're a good person and you do good things and don't think negative thoughts about other people, you actually lead a much better life.

Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?

What a ridiculous question! [Laughs] The two contact numbers in my book that millions of people would be dying to have a glimpse of probably belong to people that mean nothing to so many other people: one is [Bride & Prejudice star] Aishwarya Rai, and the other is [Asoka star] Shahrukh Khan. Some people would go mad for those two numbers. But that's just people who are into Bollywood movies.

Tootsie

What's your favourite movie quote?

Oh God, there's just too many. Some of my favourites are from Tootsie, where Dustin Hoffman is dressed as a woman. I really love the scene where Dorothy [Hoffman in drag] is on television and she's about to make some speech about sexism. The producer wants the cameraman to try and make her look more attractive and asks: "How far can you pull back?" The cameraman takes one look at Dorothy and says: "How do you feel about Cleveland?"

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

Oh, these questions are difficult. OK, Horace Ové. You've never heard of him, have you? Well, there you go. He's a black filmmaker who's been working in Britain for a long time and he's found it very hard to get movies off the ground. He made a brilliant film called Playing Away [1986, starring Ross Kemp and Norman Beaton] around the same time as My Beautiful Laundrette. It's about a black cricket team from Brixton who are invited to this village in Sussex as part of a Let's-Help-Feed-People-in-Africa-Week or something. And this Brixton team end up in this village playing a jolly good game of cricket. It's a wonderful, wonderful movie about the black experience in Britain. So few people saw it and it was a tragedy that it wasn't given a wider release. I think if it could be re-released, it would be a huge success.

And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

Oh no, I can't say that, that's just mean. No I can't answer that one, it's bad karma!

Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?

It's an actor. I can't name him. He was a complete pain in the ****ing arse and I will never work with him again. He was in one of my movies.

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

I don't know if it's dumb, but the question I get most irritated by is: "Is it hard working in this industry as an Indian woman?" I've answered that one so many times.

Bruce Springsteen

Which performer would you love to work with?

Bruce Springsteen. Totally and utterly. Slam-dunk!

Do you believe in test screenings?

Begrudgingly yes. Reluctantly, yes. It's like going to the dentist: you dread it, you know you've got to do it. You get there, it's very painful. You want to hit everyone over the head with what they say. People say stupid things and you think, 'What do they know? They're idiots!' The best thing about test screenings doesn't have anything to do with the focus groups afterwards. It's sitting in the audience with ordinary people who aren't connected to your film. Hearing and watching the audience and seeing how they react - or don't react - to certain things is really valuable.

How seriously do you take reviews?

The thing about reviews is very interesting. Most directors read reviews, but it's a little different for me because I trained as a journalist and I still see myself as a kind of bogus film director second and a journalist first. Once you're a journalist, you never stop being a journalist. Even when I do press for my films, I'm always conscious of the situation I'm in from a journalist's point of view. So when I read a review - positive or negative - what's interesting for me is who has written it and why are they saying what they're saying.

Bend It Like Beckham

Reviews, for me, are much more about the person writing them than they are about me and my work. A lot of my work is about race, and everything I do is about informing people how similar and how different we all are to one another. When I read reviews I'm interested in whether or not the reviewer puts my work in the context of race and racism or not. Even a light and frothy, commercial hit like Bend It Like Beckham is actually a black film. It's about an Indian girl and her family in a suburb of west London. And for that to be the most commercially successful British-financed film ever... that is a huge cross against whatever the BNP might try to say they have in terms of electoral power. The fact that British people went out and voted with their feet and bought the DVD in droves shows me culturally a lot more about the British psyche and race than reports about the BNP. What I look for in reviews is whether or not people understand what my bigger idea is.

What's your biggest regret?

When I worked at Pebble Mill in Birmingham, I discovered the delights of the BBC's subsidised bar. I used to go in after my news shift. Back then a pint was something like 25p - it was a long time ago. So I used to make myself sick with all these other journos by drinking seven or eight pints of beer and then we'd all get in a taxi and go for a curry. I'd eat curry at about eleven o'clock at night, wake up the next morning, eat nothing all day because I was on the road and do the same thing all over again. I did that for nearly a year and I put on so much weight that I've never been able to shift it!

There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?

Ring up every single person who's important to me and tell them just how important they are.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Only ever do things that make you happy and bring you pleasure.

And the worst?

"I think you're too ambitious. Don't aim too high, don't try and get into university, you might not make it. Have you ever thought about going for a secretarial course?" A school careers adviser told me that.

xXx star Vin Diesel takes aim at Gurinder Chadha

What film makes you want to spit?

It would be something with horrible mindless violence. Something like xXx. I hate films like that - all the Tarantino stuff. The films that make me spit - and the ones that I refuse to go and see - are the ones with inane, mindless violence where people are just being killed for the hell of it. One of the films that I thought was really overrated was Pulp Fiction. I know that's an unfashionable thing to say, but I just think that the whole thing about shooting people and getting off on the power of the gun is really stupid and immature. These films are made by kids who haven't really grown up. I don't care what anyone says, I do believe that there's a correlation between what we show on the television or cinema screen. It does have an impact on children and on society. I think stupid mindless movies where people are just killed over and over again are just a waste of space.

What are your three favourite films and why?

Tokyo Story, because it's a perfect, brilliant, wonderful movie that is mindblowing in its minimalism. It's A Wonderful Life, because it's one of the most human movies that an American has ever produced. Tootsie, because it is a perfect comedy movie. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every character, every element of that movie is so well done.

What do you think of Norman Wisdom?

I grew up with Norman Wisdom, I thought he was brilliant. He represents my childhood. My parents loved him too. It was his ability to make you feel so sorry for him. He was so vulnerable and innocent wasn't he? He couldn't exist today.

Bride & Prejudice is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th October 2004.

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