Tag Archives: Beecham House

My Big Break: Gurinder Chadha

The award-winning director behind movies such as Bend It Like Beckham and ITV series Beecham House (above) recalls how her first short film, 1989’s I’m British But…, paved the way for the themes and directing style that would shape her career.

I never intended to become a director. I trained as a journalist and was working for the BBC as a reporter. But I realised I was just doing small stories and couldn’t tell the stories I wanted to tell. At that time, the Bhangra music scene was taking off in England, with people like me born or raised in England combining hip hop, rap, reggae, soul and R&B with traditional Indian music.

Gurinder Chadha
(photo: Montclair Film)

For me, that was a critical part of who I was and gave me confidence to secure my identity as being British and Asian. Before that, there were all these debates in the early 1980s about are we British, are we this, are we that? Whereas our parents were Indian and belonged ‘back home.’

That music secured who I was – a combination of everything – so I wanted to make a film about music and identity. I secured a small grant from the British Film Institute under their new directors scheme, and I made I’m British But…

What was initially going to be a pop promo of a Bhangra band on a rooftop in West London, like The Beatles performing on the roof of Apple, grew into this film with the theme of identity, featuring interviews with four young Asians – from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was the first time you were seeing these images and people talking with regional accents. So it opened up the debate. That was when I got my hallmark style – taking British Asian stories and making them bigger, universal and relatable to all audiences.

I wanted the interviews to be lit beautifully because I wanted their skin colour and everything to look beautiful. I also realised how much of the film is made in the edit, so it wasn’t just about the camera – it was about editing and storytelling. For me, it also crystallised who I am. I’m still the same person and I have an incredibly strong sense of identity rooted in that music. Going on, I celebrate so many different sides of myself in my work so I can be very British at times, very Indian at times.

The director in I’m British But…

When I make a film or create something, I’m still dealing with the fact people are going to come to it with certain expectations and ideas of who these people are – my job is to challenge and subvert that and say they’re different to what you think and they’re actually very similar to you.

I hadn’t been to film school so I was making it up as I went along. We had a screening for it at the Piccadilly Film Festival in London and I won a prize, so the film was getting quite a lot of attention. Then Karin Bamborough, deputy head of drama at Channel 4, said she would nurture me and put me together with Meera Syal, who had an idea about a group of women going to the seaside on a day trip.

I knew Meera from a Channel 4 show we had done. We got together and started working on the script, coming up with characters and storylines for what would become my first feature film – Bhaji on the Beach. That’s how I became a feature film director.

I’m British But… was groundbreaking, when you think that what was around then were programmes like [India-set wartime sitcom] It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Asians were completely absent from the screen or jokey or in programmes to do with immigration, the National Front or racism.

It was a massive intervention in celebrating a community that in many ways had been under siege for a long time. But also looking at it now, it features the same music and same scene and sentiment that’s in [2019 feature] Blinded by the Light, which I made 30 years later. So I’m still banging that Bhangra drum.

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Chadha’s vision

Best known for feature films such as Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice and Viceroy’s House, writer and director Gurinder Chadha has now arrived on the small screen with her first longform drama, Beecham House.

Set in India in 1795, the six-part series follows John Beecham (Tom Bateman), a former soldier in the East India Company who arrives in Delhi determined to leave his past behind him and start a new life as an independent trader, taking up residence in the titular mansion. However, the staff soon harbour questions over their secretive new master, who arrives with his infant son August.

In this DQTV interview, Chadha explains how she has been fascinated by different screen representations of the relationship between Britain and India and why she decided to explore that history from her perspective as a British-Indian woman.

She also talks the drama’s contemporary relevance and reveals why she found making the show particularly challenging.

Beecham House is produced by Chadha’s Bend It TV for ITV and distributed by Fremantle.

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Moving into Beecham

After starring in Gurinder Chadha’s latest feature film, Viveik Kalra reunites with the writer/director for her new TV series, Beecham House. He tells DQ about the upstairs-downstairs drama, set in India in 1795.

In Blinded by the Light, the latest movie from Gurinder Chadha, Viveik Kalra plays a British Pakistani teenager whose life is uniquely inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Kalra’s star turn in the coming-of-age film led him to immediately reunite with the acclaimed writer/director on her next project, Beecham House, which also marks her return to TV drama.

“We did the film a couple of months into 2018,” the actor recalls. “I’d auditioned two or three times for it, got it and then filmed it for eight weeks. Then, right near the end, she went, ‘I think you’d be right for a part in this show I’m doing.’

“I forgot about it but she came back in, which was rather exciting. It was good because I guess, in some ways, because I’d just led a film of hers, she knew she could rely on me in that part, which is lovely.”

Viveik Kalra (right) alongside Tom Bateman in Beecham House

Kalra describes Beecham House as a “very special project,” owing to the fact it takes place in India in 1795. “It’s not a time period you usually see, it’s just amazing,” he says. “It’s an incredible time period, very culturally uplifting, at a time when the British and French are visitors and aren’t ruling over Indian people, so you have a lovely view of India untouched and untainted.”

The six-part ITV series sees John Beecham, a former soldier in the East India Company, arrive in Delhi determined to leave his past behind him and start a new life as an independent trader, taking up residence in the titular mansion. However, the staff soon harbour questions over their secretive new master, who arrives with his infant son August.

One of the first people he meets at his new home is Kalra’s Baadal, the head of the property’s staff, who helps John (Tom Bateman) settle into his new life. It’s this dynamic in the home that has seen Beecham House dubbed ‘Delhi Downton,’ drawing comparisons with ITV mega-hit Downton Abbey, which charted the fortunes of the aristocratic members of the Grantham family and their servants.

“Baadal is the initial link to John when he comes to the palace for the first time,” Kalra explains. “It was an interesting character for me to look at because it’s this upstairs-downstairs drama and I’m the link between the upstairs and downstairs, so it was a great opportunity.

“Due to the nature of the character and the family who stay in the house, it’s uplifting for the servants because they can do things in the house that typically weren’t allowed. When someone enables you and uplifts you, you can be more of a person with them rather than just a servant, so I think that makes the dynamic of Beecham very interesting.”

The show’s upstairs-downstairs setup has seen it compared to Downton Abbey

Baadal’s loyalty to his job and his master is challenged, however, when he falls for Chanchal (Shriya Pilgaonkar), which puts him at odds with Daniel Beecham (Leo Suter) and Ram Lal (Amer Chadha-Patel), forcing him to choose between duty and passion.

“It’s a catch-22 because when the Beecham family comes, they enable the servants to relax and not be on edge,” he adds. “Baadal has time to think about other things in his life, so it’s interesting to see whether he follows his head or his heart.”

Kalra says his relationship with Chadha while filming Beecham House was different from that during Blinded by the Light. On the feature film, as the lead actor, he kept his head down and got on with the job. But on Beecham House, he felt less of a burden, with the weight of the series placed on Vanity Fair star Bateman.

“I was able to relax a bit more. I was chilling out on set, which was amazing,” he says. “But although I had a smaller part, it didn’t feel like a smaller part, which I think is quite a lovely thing about a director and how they make you feel. Gurinder talks to everyone with the same sort of vibe and decency, regardless of whether they are an SA [supporting artist] on set or whether they’re the lead actor. I found that throughout the movie and throughout Beecham.”

Describing writer, director and producer Chadha as “a force of nature” on set, Kalra continues: “She will always have more energy than you, no matter how young you are. I’m 20 years old – every day she would have more energy than me! She’d be singing, dancing, she’d be the life of the party. She’s one of those people who knows what she wants, which is lovely, and she’s not afraid to say it. If you’re doing something she doesn’t like, she just says, ‘Don’t do that, do this.’ Then when you do do it, you take the note and she’s lovely and warm and sees that you’ve done something right.”

The ITV drama comes from Bend It Like Beckham writer and director Gurinder Chadha

Interior scenes for Beecham House, produced by Chadha’s Bend It TV and distributed by Fremantle, were shot at Ealing Studios in London, while the exteriors and landscapes were filmed on location across the Indian state of Rajasthan.

“It’s crazy because if you saw the set in Ealing, it didn’t feel fake at all,” Kalra says. “You’re standing there and thinking it doesn’t look completely real to the eye but then you look at it on camera and it looks exactly like the real thing, which is a credit to everyone who worked on it. Then when you start filming in India, it is totally different in terms of the number of people on set, the talent. It was amazing to be able to film there. We were there for a good two months and a lot of the cast hadn’t been to India before.”

Filming in old palaces and then staying in them as well meant Kalra began to feel like his moustached character. But by the end, “I was very pleased to shave my face,” he jokes. “It wasn’t quite as good as another actor called Amer’s. His moustache was amazing and he could curl it up. Mine wasn’t quite at that level.”

British television dramas to have explored India before or during the time known as the British Raj include The Jewel in the Crown, set during and after the Second World War, and Indian Summers, which follows members of the British government and trading community in 1932. But Kalra believes it’s more than just the fact Beecham House is set over a century earlier than these two shows that sets it apart from similar dramas.

“Just the dynamic between the characters is something that won’t have been seen before,” he says. “John is an uplifting character as opposed to one who is downbeat with the servants around him. He’s a mysterious character at the beginning. When it gets down to it, it’s incredibly interesting to see how someone uplifting and incredibly warm deals with pricklier situations in which people are slightly evil and conniving. It’s exciting to see a nice person get around those things, someone nice and human, and how they battle those circumstances as opposed to someone who is mean and evil trying to battle evil.”

Beecham House, Kalra adds, is “a very human story within that world. It’s a period piece, so it would be very easy to act to the period, but a wonderful cast has been assembled with some fantastic Indian actors, some from India, some from the UK. With that wonderful cast, it’s amazing to see people in the time period as opposed to them playing up to it.”

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Bend it like Beecham

Gurinder Chadha, director of Beecham House, tells Michael Pickard about changing the perspective of British-Indian stories and her triple role as writer, director and producer.

Though the name of her production company, Bend It TV, takes its name from one of her most successful movies, director Gurinder Chadha took inspiration from another of her feature films for her new TV drama.

Chadha grew up in the UK watching Raj dramas such as The Jewel in the Crown and The Far Pavilions. But it was after she made Viceroy’s House (2017) – which starred Gillian Anderson and Hugh Bonneville in a story about the establishment of an independent India – that she became interested in re-examining British-Indian history from her own viewpoint.

She is now filming Beecham House, a six-part historical drama for UK broadcaster ITV, which is set at the turn of the 19th century in Delhi before the British ruled in that region and depicts the fortunes of the residents of the eponymous mansion. Fremantle is distributing the series.

Gurinder Chadha stands behind members of the Beecham House cast

“Beecham House is an opportunity for me to go back 200 years and look at India and its relationship with Britain from a different perspective, and that’s something I’m finding very interesting and exciting right now,” Chadha says. “I’m in the unique position to tell the story from an English as well as an Indian perspective, and I’m able to employ drama as well as humour and comedy. I just create characters who are very three-dimensional regardless of their cultural background. That’s the unique position I’m in – I can throw myself into both and I’m equally at home with both.”

Speaking to DQ from the set at London’s Ealing Studios, just days before production moves on location in India, Chadha is about to shoot a scene featuring a baby called August, whose father, the mysterious John Beecham (Tom Bateman), has bought the imposing house to begin a new life with his family as he tries to escape his previous life working for the East India Company.

Chadha’s career began with a short film about bhangra music, I’m British But… (1990), before she developed her drama skills with her first feature, 1993’s Bhaji on the Beach. Her first TV drama was BBC two-parter Rich Deceiver in 1995, before she broke out with 2002 romantic comedy Bend It Like Beckham, which also made household names of stars Parminder Nagra (ER, The Blacklist) and Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean).

“So this is my first foray back into longform drama and it goes very much with my viewing,” the director says. “That’s what we all do now; we all binge-watch and we love watching drama series. Once I started getting addicted to shows like The Newsroom, for example, I was like, ‘This is something I want to do.’”

Beecham House: ‘romantic, suspenseful, dramatic, sexy and sultry’, according to its director

Beecham House has been six years in the making, with Chadha working on the scripts with her husband and longtime co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges, plus Victor Levin (Mad Men) and co-creator Shahrukh Husain. “At some point in the writing process, when I’m happy with the scripts, I become the director and look at the scripts again from a director’s perspective – and then I start picking holes in them and criticise what I’ve done,” she explains. “I’ll say, ‘That won’t work, it’s not good enough,’ and Paul will say, ‘Well, you wrote that.’

“I do have this ability to put on these different hats and become different people at different times. I’ll defend a scene as a writer and then, as a producer, I’ll say, ‘Let’s cut that, it’s too expensive.’ So I find myself jumping from producer to director to writer as and when the production process requires.”

Chadha describes Beecham House as romantic, suspenseful, dramatic, sexy and sultry, and says it will be very clear it is a show made by her because of her unique brand of diverse stories.

“Everything I’ve done has been diverse but in a real, three-dimensional way where different cultural perspectives are engrained right from the script through the direction, behind the camera as well as in front of it,” she adds. “It feels like a very modern show, even though it’s set in 1795, because it’s dealing with questions that people deal with today; questions of nationhood, belonging, business and wars. All this is in the news now. I thought I was just making a period show.”

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