Gurinder Chadha, the BAFTA-nominated filmmaker behind “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Blinded By the Light,” is very much aware of the rumors surrounding “Bullet Train” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bid to be the next James Bond, and she’d like to take the credit if it happens, she said Saturday at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“I had to fight with Paramount Studios at the time,” she said of casting Taylor-Johnson as the lead in 2008’s “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.” “I think he’s going to be a big star,” she told skeptical Paramount executives at the time. “I said, ‘trust me,’ and cast him, so, of course, I will take complete credit,” she told the audience in Jeddah with a laugh.
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During an hour-long conversation, Chadha spoke at length about her career and the hurdles she faced within the industry. “I started off as a BBC news reporter and I found that I couldn’t really control the narrative. As a journalist, I had to do what I was told. But it gave me the skills to say I had to control the narrative in a way that is accessible to a complete audience.”
Despite focusing on making accessible, commercial films, the director said she still faces challenges to get her projects made. Chadha told the audience her 2019 film “Blinded by the Light” got turned down by both BBC and Channel 4, even though she believed the project had a broad commercial appeal. “We hustled and made the film and it was wonderful. We went to Sundance and had this almighty bidding war. Every filmmaker should have that experience. In the end, we went up to 17 million [dollars] with Warner Brothers. It was a great vote of confidence.”
When asked if she suffered from tokenism in the U.K. as a British-Indian director, Chadha said: “I think the opposite because I’ve been the only one for many years. I think it’s a shameful statistic and people are trying to change that. I was the first Indian woman to make a feature in Britain [1994’s ‘Bhaji on the Beach’] and, until this day, there are only one or two [British-Indian directors in Britain]. I’m a reminder of the fact that things need to change.”
“It’s about racism,” the director said of “Bend it Like Beckham.” “It’s dressed up as a comedy but it’s actually about parents protecting children from racism. But if I had gone out and said this was a film about racism, it would have never got financed, never!”
Chadha finished her talk by asking Indian members of the audience if they knew of any Punjabi-speaking scriptwriters, as she “would like to make a film in Punjabi,” and has “a great idea” in mind. For now, however, the director is rumored to be about to direct an original Disney musical about an Indian princess.
Speaking about the experience of visiting Saudi Arabia, she said: “In Britain, we have a different view of what Saudi Arabia is. Everything here is geared towards families, everything is about family life and kids, and you don’t get those impressions in Britain.
“It’s a country that’s changing. For some people, it’s changing too fast, and for some people, it’s not changing enough. I’m really interested in those discussions right now. The work that I do is very much focused on the fact that people will change,” continued the filmmaker. “It’s interesting to see those discussions in Saudi cinema, and to see how people negotiate change. I hope it’s not seen as a negative thing.”
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