BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM directed by Gurinder Chadha, written by Chadha, Guljit Bindra and Paul Mayeda Berges, produced by Chadha and Deepak Nayar, with Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Juliet Stevenson. 112 minutes. Opens Friday (March 7). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 82. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Gurinder Chadha has a bit of a shock when she walks into a Toronto restaurant called Colony. Born in East Africa, Punjabi by nature and British by right, she looks around the ultra-swank boîte and exclaims in mock horror, "Colony! Are you sure we belong here?"
Bend It Like Beckham, which Chadha directed, co-wrote and co-produced, is the most profitable all-British movie ever. Even before opening in North America, it's already earned $50 million. And unlike most recent British hits, it was entirely conceived, financed and produced in the UK.
It's as if My Big Fat Greek Wedding had actually been a Canadian movie.
As we order a suitably post-colonial meal of jerk chicken, lamb curry and fish and chips, Chadha recalls first being inspired to write Bend It Like Beckham by the 98 World Cup. Brits of all stripes rallied round the national team, and grown men wept when David Beckham got sent off in a critical match. What if she put a couple of girls at the centre of that action, and one of them was Indian?
Chadha picks up her chopsticks and orders extra hot sauce.
"The success of the film," she says, "represents the Indianizing of Britain, or the hybridizing of Britain."
She knew she had a hit when even Britain's tabloid press claimed the film as its own. "They embraced it as an English movie!"
Chadha's lineage goes back to Britain's activist documentaries of the 80s and 90s. She left work as a BBC journalist to make I'm British But... , and it's been a direct line from that film through her debut feature, Bhaji On The Beach, to Beckham. Each film is about how brown women in the West remake their lives from the grain of several cultures. But Chadha's particular genius is to make movies that practically shout with joy.
As she tucks into her jerk chicken, she abandons her chopsticks and switches to bare fingers.
"Ooh," she laughs, "I've gone all Indian on you."
For Chadha, Indian and mainstream can easily taste the same.
"I made a conscious decision to always operate in the mainstream," she says, "but to make films about people you don't see in the mainstream.
"Beckham deals with gender, deals with sexuality, deals with cultural identity, deals with Britishness and all those things, but it's totally dressed up as a teen movie."
In any case, the lines have long been blurred, partly by films like Chadha's and partly by the people she makes films about.
Slipping back into the old seminar- room lingo, she says Bend It Like Beckham "operates in a cultural paradigm that makes total sense for anyone who lives in a city as diverse as London. People juggle different traditions, different languages, and therefore know what it means to be bicultural.
"Often when those experiences are shown in movies, they're shown as a problem. What I'm showing is the way people break through that. It's the nuts-and-bolts of integration or immigration or diversity or multiculturalism or whatever you want to call it. It actually shows that process at work, how it happens and what are the very personal decisions that people make. That's a cultural paradigm that we don't often see expressed, but you'd be surprised how many of us live and breathe it around the world."
Chadha's paradigm paid off in millions. Now, in a Hollywood waking up to the potential of Greek weddings and Punjabi footballers, she has her pick of projects.
"I could have done a studio picture," she admits. "That's what my agent wanted me to do, and that's what a lot of studios want me to do."
Instead, "I'm doing Pride And Prejudice, the Bollywood musical."
She licks her fingers clean.
"It's so naughty," she roars. "It's going up the ass of post-colonialism and coming back out again.
"We start shooting in July." firstname.lastname@example.org