Gurinder Chadha revealed that Harrison Ford had an unknowing effect on her ability to get UK hit film Bend it Like Beckham off the ground when she made it two decades ago. At the time, the director was struggling to get financing from any of the UK public film funding bodies so she could make her now treasured film about a young British-Indian girl with a talent for soccer but whose family wouldn’t permit her to play.
Speaking at the annual Winston Baker International Film Finance Forum in Cannes, in partnership with the Marché du Film, she told delegates how difficult it was to get the film off the ground.
“I had been struggling to make this film because I really believed the world was changing at this point and I believed that my cultural paradigm was relevant and I was fresh and new to British film makers,” she said. “I’d written a script with my husband Paul [Mayeda Berges] and it was very international…and a very human story and I just didn’t understand why the gatekeepers were passing on it.”
She recalls getting wind that her application for funding from the former UK Film Council was set to be rejected and so she spoke to incoming CEO John Woodward and said, “I’m furious because when you guys all want me to do panels about how hard it is to make films, particularly if you’re a person of color, you wheel me on to all of these platforms to talk about it and but now you’re not backing me – you have to back me.”
She said she heard feedback on why it would be rejected which said, “the reason this film will never get made is because you will never be able to find an Indian girl who can bend it like Beckham.” “That was the main reason they rejected the film,” said Chadha. She replied to them, “Do you think Harrison Ford jumps out of helicopters?”
Woodward thankfully took her point and went to bat for her at the UKFC at the time and ultimately scored her first £1M for the film, which enabled it to get made.
When she met Ford at a dinner in Cannes this year for the first time she told him the story and he said to her, “’Well, I’m so glad I was able to help you with your career…and by the way, I do f**king jump out of helicopters.”
Chadha talked at length to delegates about her career thus far from her early work on Bhaji on the Beach to Bend it Like Beckham and more recent project Blinded By the Light as well as her recently announced upcoming feature project from Disney about an Indian princess. She has penned the first draft with Mayeda Berges and producing with Lindy Goldstein and Jessica Virtue.
Chadha admits she put herself forward for the latest Snow White movie with Rachel Zegler and while she got down to the last two, she didn’t get the gig. A few months later she got a call from Sean Bailey who said, “The time has come for us to make an Indian princess movie and you’re the person to do it.”
They’ve delivered the first draft and while Chadha admits it’s a challenge to make something that fits the four-quadrant Disney brand, she’s happy the story “is not just about the prince anymore – it’s about the princess.”