She introduced the real Punjabi culture with each of her films. Whether it was Bend It Like Beckham or Bride and Prejudice, her own brand of filmmaking was un-miscible. The unique sense of humour and the big fat Indian wedding is her trademark, the British Asian Director, Gurinder Chadha is back with another of her ‘tadka’ Punjabi film It’s A Wonderful Afterlife this summer with great music, immense humour and none other than Shabana Azmi as the Punjabi mother. In conversation with Chandni Dev from Bollwyood Hungama, Gurinder reveals how this one is going to a never before seen watch.
How has the reaction been in the UK for the film It’s A Wonderful Afterlife?
Well, I’ve recently started twittering and it’s fantastic. People have been writing in and saying they’ve seen it and they cant wait to go and see it again and I feel it would be very popular with the British Asian population of the audiences and also with their friends and people who sort of live in the very diverse part of Britain who have Indian friends and also fans of Bend It Like Beckham. So I think so far there is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement.
You said that the concept of It’s A Beautiful Afterlife was inspired by your hormones, what’s that story?
Basically, I was pregnant when we were writing this film. So the film is very much about motherhood and how much a mother would do to keep her children happy. And in this film the character, the mother, just wants to see her daughter happy, enjoy her marriage, and enjoy motherhood before she dies you know. She wants to do all these things for her. And I think every mother kind of wants that really. You know when I was pregnant I knew I would want all these kind of things. And the film is also about death it’s also about reincarnation because where you have life you’ll also have death.
Film is also about death it’s also about reincarnation because where you have life you’ll also have death
You also were trying to make another Bend It Like Beckham through this film is that correct?
Basically it’s been seven years since I made Bend It Like Beckham and I made two films since. I made Bride and Prejudice and I made Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging which hasn’t obviously released in India yet but wherever I went people wanted me to make another Bend It Like Beckham again and again and I was like okay! Let me make a film that’s set back in that world, in that community but is of a completely different genre.
Most of your films have marriage as sort of the base
Not all of them,
But most of themâ€¦
What’s Cooking? Didn’t, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging didn’t.
The ones Indian audiences have seen is one with a lot of wedding and hoopla!
Yea! The Asian ones. But that’s because when its comes to women, especially films with Indian women as the protagonist, well so much about the Indian women is about the marriage. From the time you’re born it’s about planning your wedding. When you’re 23 the panic sets it “oh my god you have to get married”, when you reach thirty and you’re still not married your parents start feeling like they haven’t done their duty and they’ve only been living half the life because they haven’t got you married. So its still very much part of the Asian world and Asian woman and it’s definitely here in Britain too.
So much about the Indian women is about the marriage
A lot of the pressures to get married and a lot of the family system showed in your films are mainly of the British Asian living alongside the British. You think that’s something the Indian audience would understand here in India?
I don’t think that’s very British I think it’s Indian. It’s Indians who are obsessed with marriage. You tell me one woman in India who will reach the age of thirty and her parents wont be worried about her being married. It’s an Indian thing. And I think what I show is that in Britain even though so many of us are living a very English life as well as an Indian life how the concept of marriage is still very much central to our world. But what I do is, poke fun at it, I show comedy of it and that then relieves the pressure. That’s what I am really doing and in this film, I am turning Indian wedding into a kind of horror moment here. Just ready to show how ridiculous that pressure can be.
You tell me one woman in India who will reach the age of thirty and her parents wont be worried about her being married
In your film there is a big Indian wedding scene in the end that was probably the most challenging scene in the film. Is that correct?
Yes! That’s the scene in the film where the Indian wedding turns into a scene from the film Carrie where everything goes wrong. It was a lot of fun it took about 10 days to shoot that scene we had flying poppadoms and naans and curry everywhere it was a massive food fight and it was a lot of fun and I think if you had to have a wedding you’d wish it would turn out like that.
I think if you had to have a wedding you’d wish it would turn out like that.
Is the film going to be a musical because you have a great lie up of singers from Tazz and Punjabi MC and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
It’s not a musical its more of my kind of British Asian comedy but music is so important to me especially the whole British bhangra scene which started very much here in England and I am delighted on this. I went back to Bally Sagoo who I used in my first film so he is done a few tracks, Tazz has done a few tracks, Punjabi MC, then of course we have Rahet Fateh Ali Khan We have the best British Asian music in this film and that’s something I am extremely proud off because culturally that’s something very important to me. Because hand in hand with my film, goes the whole British Asian music scene.
Because hand in hand with my film goes the whole British Asian music scene.
How come Shabana Azmi and not someone who really is a Punjabi by culture?
Well! I wanted to work with Shabana well I think every director at some point wants to work with Shabana. But I never had a role that I thought would be good for her and I had got to know her after working with Javed Saab and Farhan and Zoya who worked on the lyrics of Bride And Prejudice with her. When I met up with her I found her to be extremely jolly and very funny. When I was writing this part it was such a complex part to play a serial killer and a Punjabi mother at the same time that I thought that she would have the nuances and the skills to kind of make someone sympathetic towards her even though she is murderer and so I called her and said ‘umm Shabana I have a script that I would like to send you”. She said “did you write it?” I said “yes!” she said “r u directing it?” I said “yes”. She said “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it” I said “wow! But you haven’t even read it because this is a crazy character”. She said “crazy is good at my time. I’ll like to be crazy” and she loved the idea of playing a British Indian. For her that was something she has never played before. And that was great because when we were shooting she so became that person because we were shooting in Southall and people were walking around saying “Shabana is shooting naa where is Shabana where is Shabana” and people would be walking straight past her except one woman. because she looked so not herself she fitted in completely I completely deglamourised her and then this one woman came up to her at one point and said excuse me are you Shabana Azmi and she was very pleased that at least one person recognised her and she said “why yes! It’s me” and this woman said “oh my god! What happened to you? You used to be so beautiful” so that was pretty funny.
Shabana said “crazy is good at my time. I’ll like to be crazy”
So would you like to direct a big Bollywood film in the near future? Say with Sharukh?
I would love to work with Shahrukh, absolutely love too. And who knows, I’d never say never. But if I do a masala film, I would do it in my own way with my own brand, and I did that with Bride And prejudice. I did my own version of Bollywood with Bride And Prejudice and that film is extremely popular in America with young girls. So I introduced Bollywood to a lot of people in the west with that film. So now if I have to do it I would have to do something completely different