Gurinder Chadha, the acclaimed director of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice, was recently in town to promote her latest, Viceroy's House. The movie looks at the final days of British rule in India, during which Lord Louis Mountbatten (Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville) is tasked with coming up with a quick exit plan, one that to the creation of the Dominion of Pakistan in 1947. Even though Chadha was born in Kenya and raised in London, 13 years after the historic event, the British-Punjabi filmmaker considers herself as someone who grew up in "the shadow of the Partition".
8 DAYS: Viceroy’s House is about the last days of British rule in India, leading to India’s independence and the birth of Pakistan. Is the Partition of India a sensitive topic to talk about at home?
GURINDER CHADHA: Yes. [it’s] something that not a lot of people want to talk about partly because it’s such a painful part of our history. Before I started on this film, I did this [lineage-exploring] BBC documentary called Who Do You Think You Are?, where I went back for the first time to my ancestral homeland, which is now Pakistan. I was initially a bit scared to return to my hometown, but when I got there, they all came out to greet me. This was about 10 years ago. They threw flower petals at me and said, “Welcome, you’re our daughter, and this is your home.” Suddenly, I was in a different place. I didn’t expect this. The people were very kind, affectionate and welcoming. I’d realised that the image that [most] people have [about the situation] is very different from that of the ordinary people there, and that’s why I decided to make this film.
You started this project seven years ago and, through sheer coincidence, it’s out just in time for the Partition’s 70th anniversary.
After 70 years of the Partition, [I felt] somebody needed to send out a healing message. Okay, a lot of terrible things happened, but it was the British who wanted it to happen for their reasons, so why are we fighting? We need to come together. Especially today if you look at the world, where you have so many people using hate and the politics of hate to divide us. I feel that it’s very important for us to believe that those divisions were created by politicians to undermine us so they could control us. It’s important that we push forward that message: we are all humans — we all think the same, laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, and we should be connected.
The Viceroy’s House is now Rashtrapati Bhawan, the residence of the India’s President. Do you have favourite part of the house?
I think the gardens are fantastic. The President’s Office gave me permission to shoot in the front, but I had seen the back and I really liked the back — because it has beautiful Mughal gardens with fountains — but I didn't have permission to shoot there. I was a little sad about that, but on the day I was shooting at the front for the second time, I had made friends with [our liaison], and I said to him, “Do you think I can just go in the back and take just one shot?” And he went, “Sure, come on.” So he took us to the back and I was so happy. So quickly, we just stood in the back and did some big shots. It was for the film’s opening where the boys are cleaning up leaves. After we did that, we filmed the [same] boys somewhere else and placed them in the shot, so it looked like we were actually there (laughs).
This year also marks the 15th anniversary of Bend It Like Beckham! Do you still stay in touch with Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra?
Sometimes, either on Twitter or I’d email them. It’s hard for me as a director to be sociable with actors. When you’re making a movie, you know that they’ve always wanted to be cast, or they wanted to be considered, so sometimes it compromises you, work-wise, I think. But I will always have a drink with them or have lunch with them when I see them occasionally. I’d see Keira occasionally at functions and stuff. The great thing about Bend It Like Beckham is that last year, we adapted it for West End, so we were able to take what it was that people loved about the movie and adapt it into a musical. It was very emotional. I loved the musical. I thought it was better than the film, actually. We’re hoping now for it to tour around the world, so the film will come alive again.
Will you do a sequel?
I won’t do a sequel, but you never say never, do you? (laughs)
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, Shaw Organisation
Viceroy’s House (PG) is in cinemas now.