After scoring an unexpected international success with the feminine soccer smash “Bend It Like Beckham,” writer-director Gurinder Chadha felt that she might be able to pull off a project she’d long had in mind–making a film that would pay homage to the Bollywood tradition which, as an Indian-British citizen, she’d grew up with, in a way that would also appeal to western audiences. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Chadha said in a recent Dallas interview. “I used the success of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ to get it through–because I thought I was never going to get to make a movie like this otherwise.” But as the recent musical “Bombay Dreams” showed, the mixture would be difficult to pull off. Speaking of the recent failure of that Andrew Lloyd Webber production on Broadway, Chadha said, “I think a lot of that had to do with [the fact] that the storyline did precisely what I didn’t want to do–it kind of took the mickey out of Bollywood and was very reductionistic. It reduced it to some of its campiest elements…it didn’t quite know whether it was taking the mickey or celebrating it.” She continued: “It would have been very easy…to poke fun at it, because it is quite cheesy. It’s a trite thing–it’s very melodramatic, and all the emotions are out there, it’s very long and very camp. Or you can find what’s good in it. And I wanted to have a very affectionate look at it.”

Chadha explained, “I’d wanted to make a Bollywood-style movie for a while. But I didn’t know how I wanted to do it, because I didn’t want to make a pure Indian-style movie–because I can’t. I grew up in London, I’m a British filmmaker, I’ve made films in America as well as Britain. I wanted to combine my British film history with my American [experience]–growing up on ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘West Side Story’–and combine that with my childhood–growing up on Indian movies. And it crystallized for me when I realized that the movie I wanted to make would be a combination of all three, a blend of all three. But I was going to make it for a western audience, the audience that had embraced ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ all over the world.”

Chadha found the key to achieving this goal when she hit upon the idea of using Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as a basis for the script she and husband Paul Mayeda Berges would construct. “I came up with the idea of saying, ‘Well, let’s do it, but let’s take something that’s completely the opposite–let’s take Jane Austen’s fantastic novel, because nobody would put those two together except me… To me it was like, both are part of my heritage–why not? When we started unpacking the novel, it was incredible that even though it was written in the 1790s, the world that she was writing about–the world where women weren’t considered 100% unless they were married, they weren’t really to speak out too much, they weren’t supposed to have minds of their own, they weren’t supposed to go out and find husbands–their mothers were supposed to help with that–all these things are completely true two thousand years later in contemporary India, in small-town India. It’s exactly the same…. My whole take on life is, we’re all different, and we’re the same at the same time. So I liked the fact of taking something that would be seen so much that belongs to a different time and space and making it relevant now to so many people all over the world, in my way. Once I decided to go with the Jane Austen idea, it all fell into place.”

But despite great support from Miramax, which eventually funded the picture, Chadha admitted that the shoot had been a demanding one. “The movie took me two years to make,” she said. “It was really, really hard work” although “it looks like a lot of fun on the screen.” The central problem, she explained, was in being true to the disparate elements while giving each the proper weight. “I set about balancing the east with the west according to what I thought would work. So there’s no magic formula here, it’s totally me thinking ‘Now we’re going too eastern–okay, now we’re going too western–that’s never going to fly, that might fly. Okay, we won’t have large songs, maybe five instead of ten. We won’t have Martin Henderson [the American Darcy] singing on top of a mountain, because no one’s going to believe that. But we’ll have him walking along the mountain while Aishwarya [Rai, the Indian star who plays against him] sings.’ And I didn’t always have the answers. I learnt a lot of them as I went along. But it was a constant negotiation. And I often felt that I was the captain of a ship in uncharted territory–because it’s not like this had been done before. I was constantly trying to be true to Bollywood, but at the same time make an audience new to this film language feel invested in the movie and to emotionally connect with the characters. So on this uncharted water often we would veer too much to the east, and I would have to bring the ship back, or we would go too much to the west, and I’d say, ‘We’re losing authenticity–we’ve got to bring it back.’”

Chadha’s balancing act extended to the specifics of the shoot in India and England, since she was working with Indian, British and American cast and crew and a host of languages were used on the set. “One of the things that was hardest, but also the most enjoyable, was the fact that I brought so many people together from different industries and different continents both in front of the camera and behind the camera,” she said. “I had actors from Bollywood, and their way of acting is very over-the-top, melodramatic, all outward. Then my American actors were very sort of analytical, inward, logical, and they thought they were better than the Bollywood actors. Then the British actors were, ‘All right, darling, let’s hit our marks–let’s get on with it.’ And the British actors, very pedantic, they thought they were better than the American actors and the Indian actors. The western actors had to find a way of bringing their performances up, and the Bollywood actors found a way of bringing their performances down.” The crews, moreover, had “very different ways of working. Initially they couldn’t understand each other.” But, she added, “The respect kind of changed–it was fantastic. By the end, at the wrap, I’ve got all these photos of the English crew with their arms around the Indians going, ‘Oh, I love you, mate!’”

Still, the fate of “Bombay Dreams” remained a cause of concern. “My biggest fear,” Chadha admitted, “is that people will think it’s a movie that’s not for them, because somehow they’ll think it’s Bollywood, or they don’t know what it is, or they’ll think it’s Indian. Just like ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ People thought it was not a movie for them, because it’s about soccer, or it’s from England, or who the hell is Beckham? But in the end people did go to see ‘Beckham,’ realized it was for them. And it’s the same with this movie. That’s what I’m trying to do. Because I’m bringing new characters and new stories and new types of people to the movie screen.. I think people are so used to not seeing that, that they’re not sure it’s for them or not. But I’m a very inclusive filmmaker, and I make these films with as many people as possible in my mind for the audience. I really work hard to make it appeal to as many people as possible because I want as many people as possible to see these stories.”