Film-maker Gurinder Chadha has revealed she is making a Christmas Carol-style festive film which stars “an Indian Tory who hates refugees”.
The Bend It Like Beckham director discussed the state of the independent movie industry in the UK as part of the first session in the Government inquiry into British film and high-end TV.
Appearing in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at Westminster on Tuesday, Chadha said it is still more difficult to get films made with a cast of colour as she feels there is a perception that viewers do not want to see movies that do not “culturally reflect them”.
We are currently hearing from the creator of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice @GurinderC as part of our inquiry into British Film and High-End Television.
— Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsCMS) January 23, 2024
Reflecting on her independent Christmas film, she said: “I’m making (Charles Dickens’) A Christmas Carol, but my Scrooge is an Indian Tory who hates refugees – but then we go on that journey with them, and hopefully they have reclamation.”
She added that she told the Prime Minister about the project and claimed he said: “‘Oh, don’t make me look bad’. And I said: ‘I don’t have to do that for you, Rishi’.”
Chadha said the film is “fun, it’s British, it’s very close to Dickens’ original themes given the cost-of-living crisis in Britain”.
However, she revealed she has “struggled to get it off the ground” partly due to the lead being Indian.
She added: “By making it an Indian Scrooge it changes everything in terms of how I get it financed. Suddenly people go ‘It’s not commercial, it’s small, it’s an Indian film’.”
Chadha rose to prominence after creating Bend It Like Beckham, starring British actress Parminder Nagra – who is of Indian Punjabi descent – and Keira Knightley as two young girls who desire to be professional footballers, despite their parents’ wishes.
She is also been behind other hit films including Bride And Prejudice and Blinded By The Light.
Asked if this pushback against commissioning films with Indian leads is “naked racism”, she said: “I think, yes, it’s this perception that people won’t want to see a film that doesn’t culturally reflect them, which is why I always push for it.
“I’m always trying to push what is British culture.”
Exploring why she feels it is still hard for her to get a film starring an up-and-coming Indian actor greenlit despite her track record, she said: “It’ll be much easier if you have a white cast than a cast of colour to make films.
“You can talk to any person of colour film-maker and they will tell you.”
Asked if this just relates to Indian talent, she clarified that it also happens with black actors.
She said: “If you have Idris Elba or John Boyega – great. But these are people who have worked very hard to get where they are, but if I was to cast a new kid out of film school (from an ethnic minority background) and try to make them the lead, it will be hard.”
Asked if she feels it would be easier if the young actor was white, she agreed, before adding: “That’s been my experience on the film I’m making right now.”
— Gurinder Chadha OBE 💙 (@GurinderC) January 23, 2024
Reflecting on the independent film industry in Britain, she admitted: “One of the hardest things is just surviving.
“A lot of colleagues have not survived as independent film-makers.”
Chadha said the UK industry still needs studio films like blockbuster Wonka starring Timothee Chalamet, but does not want them to “stifle the independent talent” as she feels they tell the regional stories of the UK.
“Film is emotional and film touches people and it tells who we are as a nation,” she said.
“So independent film is a very important voice. It’s our passport to the rest of the world.”
When asked how she thinks things can be improved, she promoted the idea of a tiered tax credit system.
She explained: “I think a tiered tax incentive is great. So if you’re an independent film under a certain budget, you get a greater tax credit than perhaps the more studio-backed films…
“I think something that encourages first-time film-makers is very good as well. So producers are incentivised to develop talent.”
— Pact (@PactUK) January 23, 2024
Turning to the TV industry, John McVay, chief executive of Pact, the trade body for independent TV and film production companies, praised ITV for creating the drama series Mr Bates vs The Post Office.
The four-part series, which depicts the real-life campaign by a subpostmaster and his colleagues to clear their name of fraud, started a national and political dialogue and pushed for those affected to be compensated.
McVay told the committee: “I have to give plaudits to ITV for making that TV drama series and its shows you the values of public service broadcasting.
“That would never have been made by Netflix or Apple or Amazon, not their type of thing.
“It was great ITV made it… that they made a story which had such impact.”