Tell us about your new film.
Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life is one of my favourite films. It's A Wonderful Afterlife takes me back to the Bend It Like Beckham territory. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Shaheen Khan are there. I've actors from Beckham back in my new film. It's that kind of film. It takes me back to my Punjabi roots, very West London. What would be an interesting challenge for my leading lady Shabana Azmi is that, for the first time, she plays British Indian. We haven't seen her do a British film. Shabana will be playing an Indian woman who has been living in Britain for the last 45 years. She's never done that before. Besides, I've a completely different take on being British Indian from what Indians perceive. My film is going to be the quintessential British comedy. When Shabana read the script, she began to get the cultural connotations. For the first time I'm partnering up with Indian production companies The Indian Film Company and TV18. I'm very excited about that.
How was your last film Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging received?
Oh, very well! I made like it a coming-of-age British version of John Hughes' 16 Candles. It was a very English film. It came out in England with Mama Mia, which was massive. It affected every movie that came out last summer. We did spectacular business in the matinee shows. But because of Mama Mia, we weren't able to expand into the evening shows. However, when we released Angus on DVD, every parent presented one to their kids. As a result, a lot of people wrote in to say how much they connected with the film as a parent and as a teenager. The film comes out in May 2009 in the US. In America, April-May is like a Diwali release in India. Paramount is releasing it in the US. The young lead Georgia Groome will become the British version of Jodie Foster. I like introducing new talents. I'm introducing a new girl in my new film It's A Wonderful Afterlife.
What happened to Parminder Nagra after your Bend It Like Beckham?
She has signed up for five years for the American soap ER. That's quite an accomplishment for her. She's quite a household face in the US. She chose to do television. In the West, it's still not easy for Asian actors to get a big break. No, I won't say it's easy for them to break into Hollywood.
Do you think the actors from Slumdog Millionaire will benefit from its success?
That's a difficult question to answer. The good thing about this movie was that it was a movie with no big budget or Hollywood stars, and no American content so to speak, but winning all the Oscars. It's like someone in America making a film in Boston and winning all the Filmfare awards. I'd say it's wonderful for A. R. Rahman and the grace with which he has accepted all the accolades was heartwarming. He's an asset to India.
You share a unique personal rapport with Karan Johar?
Yes, in fact, I sent the script for Angus Thongs & Perfect Snogging to Karan in New York. He thought I had gone mad. After reading it, he said his hormones refuse to go back to normal. He said he'd love to see a remake of the film situated in Chandigarh.
I believe you wanted to work with Shabana for a long time?
Who wouldn't want to? Earlier, I never had a script that would challenge her enough. I mean she has played everything. Here, she not only gets to do a role that's tonally different to what she has done so far, but also do comedy, and a British comedy at that. It's not easy thing to do. I don't think she's done a film in England before. What she would find especially interesting is to work with a cast of British and Indian actors.
How much do you think the Slumdog factor matters to your cinema?
I don't think it matters much to what I do. Though, I don't doubt more Indian subjects will be green lighted in the West. That's not necessarily a good thing. I wouldn't have made Slumdog Millionaire the way Danny Boyle made, if it was offered to me. I'd have made a different film. That doesn't mean Danny Boyle hasn't made a film from his heart. For me, what I'm doing in my new film It's A Wonderful Afterlife is what I'm comfortable with. For a while, something vital was missing from the script. Then I realized that it was the 'Gurinder Chadha' factor. I am making a comedy, but the human essence was missing. I got down to it, left my kids to the nanny and got in front of the computer. Now I'm ready.