‘…Wonderful Afterlife’ takes me back to my Punjabi roots: Gurinder Chadha (Interview)

May 14th, 2009 - 9:18 am ICT by IANS  

Slumdog Millionaire By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, May 14 (IANS) British-Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is behind the camera once again for her next comedy “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” and says it’s a film of many firsts.

She is collaborating with Indian producers for the first time, it’s her first movie with Shabana Azmi who plays an NRI and for the first time she will take a “different take” at being British Indian.

“It takes me back to my Punjabi roots, very West London. What would be an interesting challenge for my leading lady Shabana Azmi is that for the first time she plays a British Indian. Shabana will be playing an Indian woman who has been living in Britain for the last 45 years. She’s never done that before. Besides, I’ve a completely different take on being British Indian from what Indians perceive,” Chadha told IANS.

Apart from Shaban Azmi, Chadha is introducing a new girl in “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife”.

Excerpts from an interview to IANS:

Q: Tell me about your new film.

A: “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” takes me back to the “Bend It Like Beckham” territory. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Shaheen Khan are there. I’ve actors from “…Beckham” back in my new film. It takes me back to my Punjabi roots, very West London. What would be an interesting challenge for my leading lady Shabana Azmi is that for the first time she plays British Indian. Shabana will be playing an Indian woman who has been living in Britain for the last 45 years. She’s never done that before. Besides, I’ve a completely different take on being British Indian from what Indians perceive. My film is going to be the quintessential British comedy.

When Shabana read the script, she began to get the cultural connotations. For the first time I’m partnering up with Indian production companies - The Indian Film Company and TV18. I’m very excited about that.

Q: I believe you wanted to work with Shabana for a long time?

A: Who wouldn’t want to? Earlier I never had a script that would challenge her enough. Here she not only gets to do a role that’s totally different to what she has done so far, but also do comedy, and a British comedy at that. It’s not an easy thing to do. What she would find specially interesting is to work with a cast of British and Indian actors.

Q: How was your last film “Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging” received?

A: It was a very very English film. It came out in England with “Mama Mia”, which was massive. It affected every movie that came out last summer. We did spectacular business in the matinee shows. But because of “Mama Mia”, we weren’t able to expand into the evening shows. The film comes out in May 2009 in the US. In America, April-May is like a Diwali release in India. Paramount is releasing it in the US. The young lead Georgia Groome will become the British version of Jodie Foster. I like introducing new talent. I’m introducing a new girl in my new film “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife”.

Q: What happened to Parminder Nagra after your “Bend It Like Beckham”?

A: She signed up for five years for the American soap “ER”. That’s quite an accomplishment for her. She’s quite a household face in the US. She chose to do television. In the West, it’s still not easy for Asian actors to get a big break. No, I won’t say it’s easy for them to break into Hollywood.

Q: Do you think the actors from “Slumdog Millionaire” will benefit from its success?

A: That’s a difficult question to answer. The good thing about this movie was that it was a movie with no big budget or Hollywood stars, and no American content so to speak, winning all these Oscars. It’s like someone in America making a film in Boston and winning all the Filmfare awards. I’d say it’s wonderful for A.R. Rahman and the grace with which he has accepted all the accolades was heart-warming. He’s an asset to India.

Q: How much do you think the “Slumdog…” factor matters to your cinema?

A: I don’t think it matters much to what I do. Though I don’t doubt more Indian subjects will be green-lighted in the West. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I wouldn’t have made ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ the way Danny Boyle made if it was offered to me. That doesn’t mean Danny Boyle hasn’t made a film from his heart.

For me, what I’m doing in “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” is what I’m comfortable with. For a while something vital was missing from the script. I realised it was the Gurinder Chadha factor. I’m making comedy but the human essence was missing. I got down to it, left my kids to the nanny and got in front of the computer. Now I’m ready.

Q: Do you share a unique personal rapport with Karan Johar?

A: Yes, in fact I sent the script for “Angus Thongs & Perfect Snogging” to Karan in New York. He thought I had gone mad. After reading it he said his hormones refuse to go back to normal. He said he’d love to see a remake of the film situated in Chandigarh.

(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at jhasubh@gmail.com)

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