Saturday, February 12, 2005

Interview with Gurinder Chada about "Bride and Prejudice"

Gurinder Chadha, the writer/director of “Bend it Like Beckham,” is back with another movie culture-combining movie. This time she has moved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from 17th century England to the colorful world of the Bollywood musical. It’s called “Bride and Prejudice.” It has an international cast that includes the first English-language appearance by Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, Anglo-Indian Naveen Andrews from television’s Lost, and Martin Henderson, from New Zealand, with an appearance by American pop star Ashanti. In a telephone interview, Chadha talked about the universal themes of Austen’s novel and the challenges and pleasures of cross-cultural movie-making.

Why is “Pride and Prejudice” especially suitable for the Bollywood treatment?

Originally when I came up with it, I thought it was very cheeky and no one else would think of doing it, combining two elements each the antithesis of the other. But it was incredible how close the world that Jane Austen was writing was to contemporary small town India. That was especially true in the role of women, who were not considered whole unless they were married, and were supposed to be very coy and not use their brains. Their mothers pushed them out and tried to introduce them to men, typical of small town Indian culture. Lizzy Bennett sides-steps all of this to be independent. There are a lot of Lizzy Bennetts. Jane Austen herself was not allowed to put her name on her books, but she managed to tell her stories.

How do you work with a co-author, especially in adapting a work by an absent co-author in Austen?

We were always going back to the novel, adapting Pemberton, Mr. Collins, and everything else in today’s terms. The pleasure in watching this movie is in knowing the novel very well. If you’re a fan of the book you can’t wait to re-live it. I was delighted to be made an honorary lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, because it showed that people who love Austen thought I did her justice. We were always very aware we were giving an English literary classic a global makeover, transcending culture, time and space, that’s all I do, being part of a new cultural paradigm myself, because I’m equally English and Indian and my husband is American and Japanese.

The film is not Euro- or Indio-centric. It is Diaspora-centric. “Bend it Like Beckham” did so well because it appeals to Diasporic people and their friends, to anyone who comes from someplace else. Celebrating different sides of ourselves, but aware of what we’re losing -- those feelings are not often articulated in film, but they relate as much to Greeks in Australia or Koreans in America as the cultures that appear in the movie.

You made some significant changes from the book, giving happier endings to some of the characters. Why was that?

We did not have the time and space to give to Wyckham as in the novel, so we had to prioritize. In the novel Darcy saves the day and does the right thing, and we kept that part of it. And we wanted to show the Collins and Lucas characters happy at the end. We took the mickey out of it because we wanted to show that his wife changed him and he was sort of endearing at the end. So we had them kiss each other and be lovey-dovey for that reason.

Were you influenced by Hollywood musicals as well as Bollywood?
It was a balance between the two. My music director and choreographer were Indian, but once they started doing their bit it was up to me to bring it back to Western eyes and ears, There are elements of Hollywood musicals throughout the movie. One musical number was my nod to “Fiddler on the Roof,” the “Tradition” song. Another, with the girls in pajamas, was a reference to “Grease.”

What’s next?
I am producing a movie called “Mistress of Spices," directed by my husband, who wrote it with me. It stars Aishwarya Rai. And in June I start filming a prequel to “I Dream of Jeannie,” set in ancient Persia. It’s an Arabian Nights-style fairy tale romp!

No comments: