Family & Companions
It was no surprise that director Gurinder Chadha, despite a traditional upbringing in a Punjabi household, did more than what was expected of an Indian woman. Her distinctly Anglo surroundings in Southall, London did more than just fuel her curiosity about other cultures; she sometimes outright rejected her family's heritage - like learning classical Indian dances or learning how to cook Aloo Gobi - in order to find her own identity. But as she grew older and more aware of the burgeoning Anglo-Asian subculture right under her nose, she developed an active interest in her mixed cultural identity, wearing traditional Indian dress and headwear with Doc Martins, for example, while becoming disenchanted with how her people were perceived. Her displeasure fueled her desire to see better, accurate portrayals of Indians in popular culture as she strove to become a film director.
Chadha was born in Kenya, but moved to Southall when she was just a baby. Her father - an accountant by trade - faced discrimination in the then-exclusively white neighborhood and had trouble finding work in his field. Instead, he worked at a local bakery and rubber factory - a struggle he endured to keep his family afloat. He switched jobs and became a postman, then worked on the gas board, eventually saving up enough money to start a general store. Chadha attended the Beaconsfield Primary School in Southall, before taking development studies where she learned the politics and economics of developing nations at East Anglia University, 120 miles away from her hometown. Upon graduating, Chadha worked at the BBC as a radio journalist, but disliked the self-importance of the other journalists. After being exposed to the bhangra dance scene, her life suddenly changed - she felt a connection to her mixed British-Asian culture for the first time and set out to explore it through film.
Among Chadha's early work, with which she began her fruitful alliance with British Film Institute and Channel 4 as producers, was the 30-minute documentary, "I'm English But..." (1989), which followed young English-Asians who defied their parent's traditions by listening to Acid Bhangra, a mix of Punjabi bhangra and rap. Her first dramatic film short was the 11-minute "Nice Arrangement" (1990), about a mixed-culture wedding. Chadha went on to helm her first feature, "Bhaji on the Beach" (1993), an Asian feminist comedy with a cheeky wit and a more serious political thematic underpinning, tracing the adventures of a busload of Anglo-Asian women on holiday in the vacation spot of Blackpool. The characters momentarily leave behind lives - though full of humor and camaraderie - that are marked by sexism, racism and personal traumas. The film was nominated for the Best British Film BAFTA award, while Chadha won the Evening Standard award for Best Newcomer to British Cinema.
Unable to capitalize on the critical success of "Bhaji on the Beach," Chadha spent a better part of the 1990s working on a script for a Bollywood film with brothers Sunny and Bobby Deol that never came to fruition. After turning out the 1994 short "What Do You Call an Indian Woman Who's Funny?" and making a cameo appearance as a reporter in friend John Landis' "The Stupids" (1996), Chadha returned to features with "What's Cooking?" (2000), selected as the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival. Following four ethnically diverse families - Jewish, African-American, Latino and Vietnamese - the film took a lighthearted look at the differences in race, culture, politics and even sexuality while the characters prepare to feast on Thanksgiving dinner. Prior to making "What's Cooking?" Chadha became inspired by her fellow Brits' dismay over losing in the 1998 World Cup, causing her to think what it would be like to put an Indian girl in the center of the football world.
The result of her inspiration became her signature film, "Bend It Like Beckham" (2002), a coming-of-age dramatic comedy about Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), an independent and spirited 19-year-old Indian girl living with her traditionally-minded parents in London while dreaming about playing European football. While secretly playing at a park - her parents would never allow such unorthodox behavior - she meets Jules (Keira Knightley), a semi-pro player who's immediately impressed by her skills and asks Jess to play. As her passion in following hero David Beckham's footsteps clashes with her family's traditionalist views, Jess is forced to lead a double life as a student and footballer. "Beckham" became a hit in England and across Europe in 2002, eventually making the trip across the Atlantic to take in over $32 million at the American box office. The film earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, while Chadha shared a nomination for Best Original Screenplay by the Writer's Guild of America with husband, Paul Mayeda Berges.
For her next film, Chadha adapted Jane Austen's most famous and much-adapted novel "Pride and Prejudice," giving it the Bollywood treatment by turning the early-19th century story about courtship and marriage into a modern day cultural clash musical. In Chadha's updated version, an Indian mother (Nadira Babbar) seeks to marry off her four beautiful daughters, but runs into trouble when the smart and head-strong Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) only wants to marry for love. Then Lalita meets arrogant Californian Will Darcy (Martin Henderson), the son of a wealthy hotel magnate, and the sparks of love - or is it hate? - start to fly. Both are smitten and suspicious of one another, as Lalita and Darcy try to overcome their prejudices so that love can flourish. Not nearly the financial success as its predecessor, "Bride and Prejudice" nonetheless pleased critics.
After scripting her husband's directorial debut, "The Mistress of Spices" (2005), a supernatural romance about an Indian woman (Rai again) who fears she'll lose her mystical healing powers when she falls in love with an American man (Dylan McDermott), Chandha was picked by Fox to helm her first major Hollywood movie, "Dallas" (2007). The star-laden film - including John Travolta and Jennifer Lopez - was an update on the popular 1980s television series where J.R. Ewing is the head of the most powerful energy company in the world.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Feature Film)
Left Kenya with family; moved to Southall, London (date approximate)
Short film directorial debut, "I'm British But..."
Feature directorial debut, "Bhaji at the Beach"
Directed the short "What Do You Call an Indian Woman Who's Funny?"
Helmed the British TV-movie "Rich Deceiver" (BBC)
Had small role as a reporter in John Landis' "The Stupids"
Second feature, "What's Cooking?", premiered at Sundance Film Festival
Helmed the sports-themed "Bend It Like Beckham"; received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy or Musical Picture
Directed "Bride and Prejudice" a Bollywood update of the Jane Austen's classic tale