Bend It Like Beckham director says Sunak was worried about new film with ‘refugee-hating Tory’ as Scrooge

Bend It Like Beckham director says Sunak was worried about new film with ‘refugee-hating Tory’ as Scrooge

Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha has claimed she shut down Rishi Sunak’s request about her forthcoming adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Chadha recently announced that the film is a contemporary spin on Dickens’ classic tale and features an “Indian Tory who hates refugees” while noting the challenges of making a movie with a cast of colour.

The Bend It Like Beckham director was discussing the state of the UK’s independent movie industry as part of the first session in the government inquiry into British film and high-end TV.

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 has told the prime minister Rishi Sunak 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.’”

Appearing in front of a Culture, Media and Sport Committee at Westminster on Tuesday (23 January), Chadha, 64, 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 films that do not “culturally reflect them”.

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 [the movie] 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’.”

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.”

Gurinder Chadha (Getty Images)
Gurinder Chadha (Getty Images)

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 filmmaker and they will tell you.”

Asked if this just related to Indian talent, she clarified that it also happens with Black actors.

She said: “If you have Idris Elba or John Boyega – great. 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.”

Chadha rose to prominence after creating the 2002 film 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 behind other hit films including Bride And Prejudice (2004) and Blinded By The Light (2019).