Gurinder Chadha OBE (born 10 January 1960) is an English film director of Punjabi Sikh Kenyan Asian origin. Most of her films explore the lives of Indians living in England. This common theme among her work showcases the trials of Indian women living in England and how they must reconcile their converging traditional and modern cultures. Although many of her films seem like simple quirky comedies about Indian women, they actually address many social and emotional issues, especially ones faced by immigrants caught between two worlds.
Much of her work also consists of adaptations from book to film, but with a different flare. She is best known for the hit films Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Bride and Prejudice (2004), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008), and the comedy film It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (2010). Her latest feature is the partition drama Viceroy’s House (2017).
Gurinder Chadha OBE
Chadha in 2013.
10 January 1960 (age 57) Nairobi, Kenya
Film director, screenwriter
Paul Mayeda Berges
Gurinder Chadha was born in Nairobi, Kenya, then a British colony. Her family was part of the Indian diaspora in East Africa. They moved to Southall, West London when she was two years of age, where she attended Clifton Primary School. Chadha’s father faced much prejudice because of his appearance as a Sikh Indian, wearing a turban and having a beard. Eventually, the family opened a shop to provide the family with an economic toehold.
Many of her future films would draw on her personal experience of being an Indian and English at the same time, and how she dealt with the duality of her identity. For example, she would not wear traditional Indian clothing, and she refused to cook for her family. In her mind, having all the women in the kitchen cooking while the men sat and ate was oppressive, although it is a living part of Indian culture. Therefore, she sat at the table with the men and was “extremely outspoken.” After graduating from the University of East Anglia, Chadha attended the London College of Printing in 1984/85 and studied as a post-graduate.
After starting her media career in radio in the mid-1980s, Chadha moved into television as a BBC news reporter. She went on to direct award-winning documentaries for the British Film Institute, BBC and Channel Four, and in 1989 released the documentary I’m British but… for Channel 4, which followed the lives of young British Asians. In 1990, Chadha set up a production company, Umbi Films. Her first film was the 11-minute Nice Arrangement (1991) about a British Asian wedding. It was selected for the Cannes Film Festival Critic’s section in 1991.
Chadha mentions the influence that the film Purab aur Pachhim had on her work, in an interview with Robert K. Elder for The Film That Changed My Life.
…There’s a wonderful kind of yearning quality about what is culture and the perils of living in the West and the dangers of what could happen.
Her affinity for stories about families was also attributed to her love for It’s a Wonderful Life.
Her first feature, Bhaji on the Beach, won numerous international awards including a BAFTA Nomination for ‘Best British Film of 1994’ and the Evening Standard British Film Award for ‘Best Newcomer to British Cinema’. Chadha first received wide recognition for the film in 1993. It was the first full-length feature film made by a British Asian woman.The film surrounds a day in the lives of Indian women, across different generations, and how they change in order to converge their cultural background with modern UK living. Chadha utilizes subtlety and nuances in dialogue and fashion in order to relay the fact that these women come from a very specific culture. For example, one character wears a leather jacket over her Indian garb, showing how she is fusing her two cultures together. Prejudice comes from both outside and inside the British-Indian community; white men treat the immigrants as garbage, while the older generation of Indian women judge the modern look and actions of the new generation. The traditional role of the Indian woman is challenged by the progressive views of the younger women, as they try to break free from the “oppression” that Chadha fought hard to break free from herself.
Issues of domestic abuse and male superiority are also showcased in the film, as one character and her young son are chased by her abusive husband and his family. Another character, who is expected to be a doctor by her parents and the local Indian community, becomes pregnant by a black classmate, which is a taboo in the community. The film was low budget, but received critical success for its take on racial stereotypes, immigration, and gender roles. Several major projects followed, most notably the movies Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bride and Prejudice (2004).
In 1995, she directed Rich Deceiver, a two-part drama for the BBC, watched by 11 million viewers.
What’s Cooking? was the Opening Night Film of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, and was the first British script to be invited to the Sundance Institute’s Writer’s Lab. The film was voted joint audience award winner in the New York Film Critics’ 2000 season (tied with Billy Elliot), and Chadha won the award for Best British Director in the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards.
Bend it Like Beckham was the highest grossing British-financed, British-distributed film, ever in the UK box-office (prior to the success of Slumdog Millionaire). The film was a critical and commercial success internationally, topping the box-office charts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and South Africa, and winning audience favourite film awards at the Locarno, Sydney and Toronto film festivals. The film received a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), a BAFTA Nomination for Best British Film, a European Film Academy Nomination for Best Film, and a Writers Guild of America Nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Like ‘ ‘Bhaji on the Beach’ ‘, ‘ ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ ‘ features a strong Indian-British woman, Jess, who tries to realize her dreams while maneuvering through her duties as a daughter of traditional Indian parents. Although marketed to the United States as a “chick flick,” it is regarded in Britain as an important post-feminist film that fits perfectly into the British progressive frame of 2002. Prime Minister Blair even wrote a congratulatory letter to Chadha, saying, “We loved it, loved it, because this is my Britain.” Chadha herself meant for the film to be a “girl power” movie, which features both a white woman and an Indian-British woman fighting for their shared dream of playing professional soccer. It addressed issues of prejudice against race and sexuality, however, allowing the film to transcend the “chick flick” moniker. Topics of interracial coupling and lesbian stereotyping add meaning to the “girl power movie.”
Bride and Prejudice – a film which marries Jane Austen with Indian and Western musicals – was the first film ever to open at Number One in the UK and India on the same day. It attempted to fuse Bollywood, Hollywood, and a “British sensibility” into one film. For each character and scene of the original novel, Chadha adds an Indian twist. For example, the original diversity of class between the two leads in the original book are changed into a diversity of race, having the female lead as an Indian and the male lead a white man. The film was not meant to be an actual Bollywood movie, however. Much of the film is Westernized for a Western audience. There are both Bollywood numbers and Western musical numbers inspired by the likes of “Grease” and “West Side Story”.
She wrote the screenplay for The Mistress of Spices (2005), (based upon the novel of the same name by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) with Berges, who directed the film.
In 2005, she appeared on the BBC show Your London, in which she told the story of a Sikh prince who lived in London in the 19th century. In 2006, she took part in the BBC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? in which she traced her Sikh family roots back to Kenya and before that to India’s Punjab.
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging – based on the international bestseller, was released worldwide by Paramount Pictures in 2008/2009. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before releasing internationally in 2010.
Chadha has received several Honorary Doctorates from British universities and was awarded an O.B.E. in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours List on 17 June 2006 for her services to the British film industry.
Although the BBC had confirmed that Chadha was to direct the forthcoming feature film adaptation of the popular television series Dallas, she left the project in 2007.
Chadha is currently collaborating with composer A. R. Rahman and lyricist Stephen Schwartz on DreamWorks Animation’s first musical set in India. She has announced an animated musical entitled Monkeys of Bollywood, based on the Indian epic Ramayana. Reportedly, the Bollywood-style animated musical is set in Mumbai and revolves around two monkeys who try to stop an ancient demon from conquering the world. It is produced by DreamWorks Animation.
Her next film is an epic drama on Indian Independence and Partition, to be released in 2012. It is based on the book Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.
In a recent interview Chadha mentioned she was planning to make part two to the hit romantic comedy Bend It Like Beckham where she hopes the three main actors make a return. The film would be based on their successes, and a further development on Joe and Jess’s love story.She was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2015.
Chadha is married to American screenwriter and director Paul Mayeda Berges, and they have twins together, a boy named Ronak and a girl named Kumiko, born in 2007.
I’m British But… (1989) (TV)
A Nice Arrangement (1991)
Acting Our Age (1992)
Pain, Passion and Profit (1992) (TV)
Bhaji on the Beach (1993)
What Do You Call an Indian Woman Who’s Funny? (1994)