Chadha tackles migration with humor

'Beckham' director explores identity in new film

PANAJI, India -- Gurinder Chadha, the director behind the hit "Bend it Like Beckham," is one of a trio of Indian-origin women directors wowing the world with their unique style. But unlike Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair, Chadha's films have a distinctly earthy feel.

Whether it was "Beckham" or "Bhaji on the Beach," the London-based Chadha has explored themes of migration and cultural identity with a healthy dose of humor.

Chadha, 49, spoke recently on the sidelines of the 40th International Film Festival of India where a retrospective of her films was screened, about why her movies appeal to migrants everywhere, and not just Indians.

Q: All your films have an Indian vibe. What kind of a reaction do you get from Indian audiences?

A: "Depends on the films, but generally speaking, it is a very affectionate feeling towards me and my films. Maybe it is the Punjabi nature of me and my films, but they have always given me a lot of love."

Q: How Punjabi are you and how British?

A: "I don't know if I could divide that. I think I am Punjabi in a British way and very British in a Punjabi way. I am Indian, but also very British. I am part of the diaspora and I produce creative work which comes out of me being part of the diaspora. My ancestors originate from Jhelum and Rawalpindi (in Pakistan), then my family went to Kenya and now I live in England. All of this creates a very interesting cultural context."

Q: What does that cultural context bring to your style of filmmaking?

A: "That's the essence of what my films are. My films are complete combinations. No else can make my kind of films - an Indian can't make them, a British person can't make them, only I can make them. It is also partly about how I choose the film, how I put the stories together, everything. You can't decipher one moment."

Q: Your films are seen as tailor-made for the Indian diaspora. Do you agree with that? Is that your biggest audience?

A: "Well, it is a large part of my audience. But it isn't just Indians. It is the culture of diaspora and that's what attracts them. Most cities in the world have very mixed populations, so my films work in those kinds of cities for sure."

Q: It is said about Indians abroad that they watch so many Indian films because they have a greater connect with their motherland than Indians in India. Do you agree?

A: "I think it's not so much about a longing for the motherland; it's more about the language. We enjoy seeing films in our languages, we love the music and dance. But I think people are comfortable living where they are, but it is culturally interesting to keep the language alive, as opposed to a hankering after the motherland, as it is made out to be."

Q: Tell us about your latest film

A: "My next film is called 'It's a Wonderful Afterlife' with Shabana Azmi. I can't really talk much about it because Studio18 is distributing it in India and they have big plans. I will say that it is a different genre for me. It's the world of 'Bend it Like Beckham,' but in a different genre. It is very entertaining, and I also think that it is one of the most proficiently made films."
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