A Q&A with Bend it Like Beckham director, Gurinder Chadha

Bend It Like Beckham, that rare British film starring attractive actors without serious dental problems, was released in England last year to much acclaim. During a lengthy theatrical run it became the country’s highest grossing film financed and distributed by a British company.

The movie’s central character, Jess (Parminder Nagra), is a 17-year-old Indian girl who joins a female soccer team in England unbeknownst to her parents. Bend It Like Beckham’s strongest scenes occur when Jess deals with her family, her British friend Jules, and her 20-something Irish soccer coach, whom she starts to “fancy” after joining the team.

Bend It is basically foolproof filmmaking because it exemplifies a kind-hearted universal appeal. Certain comedic elements highlighting ethnicity have drawn comparisons to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but Bend It goes a little deeper with its characters and the focus on soccer gives it playful flare.

On March 12, the film finds a limited release in the United States and insider buzz is already swarming with indie-hit potential. Perhaps the only obstacles hindering such success are Fox Searchlight’s current backburner marketing campaign and the film’s thick British accents, which are tough to decipher at first, but add to the film’s charm (I’ll never understand why “stupid cow” didn’t catch on as an insult among American teenage girls).

Gurinder Chadha, the film’s director and co-writer, sat down with L&A in a modest-sized suite at The Palms Hotel in South Beach to discuss the movie. Chadha, who comes from an Indian family that moved to London soon after she was born, sipped hot tea and answered questions about her newest film in a soft, Mrs. Doubtfire-style British accent.

Q: First of all, how do you pronounce your name?
GC: Gurr-in-durr Chah-dah.

Q: When did you become interested in filmmaking?
GC: Not until my 20s. I was interested in being involved in the media, but I thought I was going to be moving to television, because I was interested in having some say in how stories and images of people like me were shown on television and in the media, generally. But it was when I saw this film, My Beautiful Laundrette, that I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be great to tell stories like this in such a big way, on the big screen.

Q: Have all of your movies so far been made in England?
GC: No, my first was made in England, Bhaji on the Beach. My second was made in the states, in Los Angeles. That was called, What’s Cooking?, and it followed four families on Thanksgiving. It was an attempt to look at what we mean by the traditional American family. It was a very traditional American movie, but it was just filled with people that we don’t traditionally see on the American screen. There was a Vietnamese family, an African American family, a Latino family and a Jewish family, all interwoven.

Q: Where did you get the funding for your first documentary (I’m British, But…)?
GC: My first documentary was financed by the British Film Institute under a scheme they had called “New Directors.” The aim of the scheme was to find filmmakers who hadn’t necessarily had a training in film, but felt they could make a film and had something to say. I was very lucky. So I’ve actually never been to film school. I kind of learned on the job.

Q: What movies are you influenced by?
GC: I don’t know if I was particularly influenced by a particular movie, but there are directors whose work I really admire. I really admire Ken Loach (Bread and Roses). I’ve been following Ken Loach for many, many years, since I was a little girl, and I love the integrity with which he makes films. I admire Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) for the way he deals with serious subject matters in one go in his films. They’re very dense, and they’re very Irish, but also very universal. I admire Martin Scorsese for the very sleekness and passion with which he crafts his films. They’re just a pleasure to watch. I like Alan Parker for some of the choices he’s made in films. Birdy is one of my favorite films.

Q: What was the process like making Bend It Like Beckham?
GC: Bend It Like Beckham, being my third feature, was much easier than my first two. The subject matter I knew in and out, and it was set in my own hometown. I felt very comfortable making that film, and it was a complete pleasure from start to finish. The writing of it was really fun, the casting, the actual shooting, the editing and then putting all the music. I love watching the film with audiences, because I love to see them go on their emotional journey, to twist and turn, and to be on the edge of their seats.

Q: Your next movie is going to be Pride and Prejudice, but with a Bollywood (the Indian filmmaking capital) setting…
GC: Yes. Well, it’s going to be set in India, England and America. The lead female will be from India and the lead male will be an American. It covers a much more current international gamut. It’ll be a musical, with beautiful landscapes, colors, songs and melodrama. And also, it’ll be a love story.

Q: You’ve been at Sundance [Film Festival] for your last couple of movies, right?
GC: Not Bhaji on the Beach. Just What’s Cooking? [and Bend It Like Beckham]. What’s Cooking? opened Sundance in 2000.

Q: Did people like Bend It Like Beckham there? Was it well received?
GC: Yeah, it got a huge standing ovation. In fact, I just heard Roger Ebert on TV say it was the best film he saw at Sundance, so that’s kind of good.

Shawn Wines can be reached at shawnwines@aol.com.