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    I've made Aishwarya look accessible: Gurinder Chadha

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Thursday, October 07, 2004
    She is the queen of the marquee for the moment with her riotous, colorful "Bride & Prejudice" being one of the most anticipated and written about films in recent times, and Gurinder Chadha is all keyed up.

    The director of the hit "Bend It Like Beckham" says her audacious adaptation of the Jane Austen classic "Pride & Prejudice" will be a "rare, feel good Christmas" movie when it releases in the US at the end of the year.

    The Indianised version of the popular classic has already been premiered in London and is being released in India Friday. The dubbed Hindi version is called "Balle Balle - Amritsar to LA!".

    Chadha says her film, with its dances and songs, treads carefully on the line between the east and the west and is hoping that it would be seen differently by both audiences.

    In an interview with IANS, Chadha says Jane Austen''s novel is about class differences, but by making the hero American and the heroine Indian she is subjecting the audience to a totally different world view in her film.

    You must be all keyed up?

    Are you joking? Of course I am! The premiere in London on the Oct 4 went off swimmingly. Now there's the Indian premiere on the Oct 7. Then I head with the film to the US on Christmas day. They'll build up anticipation for the film in the US on the strength of its anticipated success in India and Britain. First, it'll release in New York and Los Angeles.

    Christmas is not a great time to release all the big Hollywood movies. But it's perfect for "Bride & Prejudice because it's so different from the other 'serious' Oscar-driven movies. This will be a rare feel-good Christmas movie... Just like "Chicago".

    You mean the color, the splash?

    Yeah, all of that. But also there's a bit of a political bite in "Bride & Prejudice". The fact that the hero Darcy (Martin Henderson) is American and thinks he's from the premiere country... he has that attitude. Lalita (Aishwarya Rai) represents modern India. Jane Austen's novel is about class differences. By making the hero in my life American and the heroine Indian, we're suddenly subjecting the audience to a totally different world-view.

    So you've basically made Bollywood accessible to the First World?

    It's not that simple. We've to understand that a majority of Americans don't even know where India is on the map. I definitely think "Bride & Prejudice" would change that.

    One of my fondest memories after "Bend It Like Beckham" is when we were at Bally Sagoo's wedding in London. There was a Sardarji from Texas who told me "Bend It..." changed his life. He said before the film he was considered an Islamic terrorist in the US. But after the movie came out, they identified him with the Anupam Kher character. That was a big deal for him.

    I think "Bend It..." put Indians in England in a wider perspective not just for Americans but for the rest of the world. My Indian characters were treated in a very cosmopolitan way whereas "Monsoon Wedding", though a lovely film, portrayed Indians as very culture-specific. And that worked for "Monsoon Wedding".

    The Indianisations in Mira Nair's "Vanity Fair" have been severely scoffed at in the US. Is that scary for "Bride & Prejudice"?

    Not at all. I haven't seen "Vanity Fair". But I can imagine their shock because they had gone to a British costume drama. But full credit to Mira Nair for trying a different take on William Thackeray's novel. I don't think Mira was wrong in weaving in the Indian bits. With me the case is different. What you read in the blurbs and see in the opening titles is what you get in "Bride & Prejudice". It's completely out there, and I'm not hiding any of the Indian stuff.

    Will it appeal as much to Indian audiences as in the West?

    I think it'd be seen differently by both audiences. The film treads carefully on the line between East and West. I think different people will get different things out of it. You know we were planning to release it only in English. But when we showed it to hardcore Hindi movie buffs they loved it.

    We put the whole Hindi version together in just three weeks. I was in London completing the English version. My producer Deepak Nayyar supervised the Hindi version. See, according to me, "Bride & Prejudice" works not because of the songs and dances but because it tells a love story.

    Do you think the film will make Aishwarya Rai an international star?

    Ash looks very different from her usual self. She has used very little makeup. She looks very natural. Very Punjabi, very much like me. I wanted her to look like me. She tried but she couldn't get there (laughs out aloud). I tried to make her put on weight. But she couldn't. I've made her look accessible. She's not Miss World. She's Lalita Bakshi in "Bride & Prejudice". She walks clumsily for the part. A lot of acting is about the gait. I gave her no long lingering close-ups. I don't do any of that tears-in-the-eyes stuff. In the past she was known all around the world as a beauty. Now she'd be recognized as an actress not just in Hollywood but all over the world.

    What next?

    Aishwarya Rai will be starring in a film to be directed by my husband Paul. It's a novel called "The Mistress Of The Spices" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Paul and I had adapted it for the screenplay some time ago. But we couldn't get the finances for it because of an Indian woman in the lead. Now after "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Bride & Prejudice" things are different. We have the finances coming in. Paul is the right person to direct it. I'll produce it with Deepak Nayyar. Ash is perfect for the role. Anupam Kher will also be in it. The rest of cast including Black Americans and Americans will be in it.

    And you?

    I'm directing a screen version of the American television series "I Dream Of Jeannie". We've zeroed in on two major Hollywood actresses. One of them will play the lead. It's the role of a 17-18 year old. It's a prequel to the popular TV show. It will be set in Persia. It's a huge studio movie with action, adventure and special effects. It will be much bigger than "Bride & Prejudice" with a budget of $80-90 million.

    Are you scared?

    I don't think getting scared is an option. I could make Beckham Parts 2, 3 & 4 with the budget for special effects for Jeannie. But I've to move on.


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