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“I wanted to make movies that featured people that look like me…”

Excerpts from an interview with eminent director of “Bend It Like Beckham”, “Bhaji on the Beach”, “Bride and Prejudice” and “Blinded by the Light”, Gurinder Chadha

By Darshan P. Kaur

Gurinder Chadha, OBE is an English film director of Indian origin and a well-known name in Hollywood with movies such as Bend It Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach, Bride and Prejudice, and Viceroy’s House, among others. Her new movie Blinded by the Light is scheduled for release in US on August 16, 2019. Her new six-part drama series Beecham House is also scheduled to be telecast on Masterpiece on PBS (no air date set). She was recently in Atlanta as a keynote speaker at AAJA’s (Asian American Journalists Association) REPRESENT session at their annual conference and was kind enough to answer a few questions for Atlanta Dunia. Here are some excerpts from her interview:

Q: What motivates you to make the kind of movies that you do?
GC: I started by saying that I wanted to make movies that featured people that look like me but I didn’t see them on the screen or I saw them very marginal on the screen, so it was important to me that I could see people like myself up there and stories about people like me but it was also important that I told them in a very commercial way so they start off being about the Asian community but they actually become extremely universal. I wanted to make sure that they would reach audiences globally and that was my main reason for going into filmmaking.

Q: What was it about Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir that inspired you to make Blinded by the Light movie?
GC: Sarfraz and I have been friends for a long time because we are both Bruce Springsteen’s fans. I used to work at Harrods in the records department and I used to love soul music. That was my thing, my music. And then this guy at Harrods (English guy with long hair!), once said “Have you heard Bruce Springsteen?” and I said “Yes, but I am not a rocker!” because I had him down as a heavy metal guy. And he pulled out the album “Born to Run” and there was a picture of a white guy and a black guy being really pally with each other on the cover and I was really struck by this image. I absolutely loved the Saxophone which led me to Bruce, how he plays the saxophone is very soulful and spiritual. And that’s how I got introduced to Bruce. I went to see him live in 1983. And I saw an article in newspaper about Sarfraz Manzoor and how he likes Bruce Springsteen and I said OMG! There is another Asian person who also likes Springsteen. There must be only two of us in the entire UK! (laughs) We became friends, I read his memoir and I wanted to make it into a movie but didn’t want to do it without Bruce’s blessings. Luckily, we met Bruce in 2010 in London for the premier of The Promise. He was walking down on the red carpet; and we were very nervous. Springsteen walked over to Sarfaraz and said, “Hey man, I have read your book, it’s really beautiful”. Sarfaraz was shocked and said “OMG! How did you read it? Who gave it to you?” and Bruce said. “Oh yeah, people send me stuff”. I realized this was it! My chance to pitch the movie to him - in five seconds. I told myself be calm, be professional. And I went (in a shrieking voice), “Bruce, I am Gurinder Chadha, I made Bend it like Beckham. We wanna make a movie”. Honestly, it came out in a high pitch voice. He listened to me and said, “I have heard about that movie (Bend it like Beckham). Sounds good. Talk to John (Landau)” and that’s how the movie happened.

Q. You said, “The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become”, these are lyrics you live by. Can you tell us a little bit more about what these lyrics mean to you?
GC: I think I just did (laughs). That’s the thing. Fighting spirit. Seize the moment. There is a campaign right now for the Blinded by the Light movie on twitter – Lyric I live my life by (#LyricILiveBy) – so you just add that hashtag and put your lyric and I put these Labi Siffre’s wonderful song. The thing is our lives are about struggle, but our lives are also about joy. And we have a lot of love, we have a lot of joy in our lives. And so, for me, it’s about combining them both. So, the thing is to always be gracious. Sometimes, I am like why am I always the first person to do things? Or why am I the first woman to do that? Why do I keep going? What is this about? And it occurred to me, when I made my partition (of India/Pakistan) film, Viceroy’s House, that it’s because I am a Sikh! I sat on the shoulders of Sikh warriors. And that’s where I get it from, from either going to the Gurdwara and knowing what Sikhs have done before me. I think that’s where I get my strength from. Just knowing that’s wrong or this is the right way. Being in Chardikala.
(Gurinder often talks about Chardikala, a concept in Sikhism, which signifies a perennially blossoming, non-wilting spirit, a perpetual state of certitude resting on the unwavering belief in the Divine)

Q. Blinded by the Light is set in the 1980s. Why did you make the movie now?
GC: I finished Viceroy’s House and I had the script for Blinded by the Light, and I was worried if I am going to repeat myself with this script because I felt there were some overlaps there. But then Brexit happened. And then all of a sudden, all of these xenophobes came out and I saw a kind of breakdown of the society around me. And it was horrifying! I felt what can I do about this. I needed to do something. That’s when I picked up the script of Blinded by the Light and put all my fears and frustration and anger into the redraft of the script. I wanted to show an alternative. I wanted to show a world that was much was inclusive and much more integrated and joyful and the reality of my experience. To show that there is an alternative to what is being pedaled in the news.

Q. What do you hope that the audience will take away from the film? Is there a message you want to convey to the audience across the globe?
GC: Like in everything I do the message is “Wow! Look how similar we are, not different!”. And “Wow! Bruce Springsteen is amazing! I must go download all his albums right now” (laughs). I will be very happy if people walk away from the screening, wanting to download every single of his. But seriously, it is a voice that is saying “Look how similar we are, in a sea where people are entirely different”

Q. That’s beautiful! And so far, have you seen that kind of reaction from people as well?
GC: OMG! Everywhere I go it’s the same reaction. Every country I have been in, every audience, people cry and sob and they come out saying they really loved it. They find it utterly relatable.

Q. Why do you think so many people can relate to it?
GC: It’s because everybody has been a kid and has wanted to do something that their parents didn’t necessarily agree with. So, you have parents wanting one thing for their kids, and kids wanting to do differently. I love the drama in how these two sides come together, the negotiations that happen within that. So many people relate to it because everyone needs parental approval in some kind of way, and some people never get it. That’s ultimately why the film is so relatable. (The main character) Javed is trying so hard to do what he wants without hurting his parents. This was the essence of Bend it like Beckham as well. That’s an incredibly touching thing. As Asians we carry that guilt, if we ruffle the parental feathers, as do Jewish people, and Catholics. And its so amazing when you see the joy of someone trying to make it work, of negotiating. And that’s why its so universal because we have all been there.

Q. As Indian-Americans or British-Asian, there is a question of how much assimilation is too much assimilation. Your characters usually display a fine balance of assimilation and not being boxed within their south Asian identity. How do you go about creating these characters with a fine balance?
GC: I think its personal. I do what I think is right. What works for me. I can be very Indian when I want. I can be very English when I want. I value my Indianness as well as my Englishness. When I go to India I become very English (laughs). I cannot eat Indian food all the time. So there is a dark side of me. But on the other hand, when I have been working hard and traveling, nothing like going home and having an aloo parantha with home made ginger pickle. I see myself very much as an international identity. I am not one thing or the other. I am all in one. My husband is Japanese-American. Therefore, my children are British-Indian-Japanese-American and all the rest of it. So, to look at the world with their eyes is pretty interesting and they don’t see the world as binary, they see multiplicity. The world belongs to those of us who have multiple identities. That’s the future.

Q. What’s next for you? Any projects in the making?
GC: Well, I need a holiday, for sure. (laughs) The movie still has to open in a lot of countries, so I will be going to Paris in September for the French opening, maybe going to Hong Kong, its opening in Australia in October, also Japan is going to be next year for some reason. So, I will be doing a bit of traveling. But I am also writing and at the moment, I am working on a great project, about a very big famous band, where some of the members don’t see eye to eye, so my job is going to be to tell the story in a healing way and bring them all together. I am excited about that.

Q. Do you have a dream project or subject that you would love to explore in the future?
GC: Oh yeah! I would love to do a big superhero movie. Big Budget! I am putting it out in the universe now. That means it will happen! Fingers crossed.

A review of Blinded by the Light movie can be found here. We wish Gurinder Chadha all the very best in her future endeavors.


' Aug-15-2019