Gurinder Chadha is forging an indie Christmas movie about an Indian Ebenezer Scrooge set in London, financed by Zygi Kamasa’s new UK distributor True Brit.
The Bend It Like Beckham director has revealed the news in the past hour as she delivers evidence at the British Film and High-End Television inquiry, which starts today.
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Chadha said the film is “fun, British and very close to Dickens’ original themes,” telling the story of an Indian Scrooge who votes for the Conservative Party and hates refugees.
She says financing is being provided through a combination of UK tax credits and Kamasa’s True Brit, which Deadline revealed launched late last year with backing from Three Six Zero. Its debut production is Danny Dyer-starrer Marching Powder.
“Real struggle to get it off the ground”
While Chadha said her Xmas movie is “coming together” due to the combination of tax credits and True Brit, she added that “it has been a real struggle for me to get it off the ground partly because the lead character is Indian,” adding: “By making it Indian Scrooge it changes everything in terms of how I get it financed.”
Questioned by committee member John Nicolson on whether this struggle for financing is “naked racism,” Chadha said “there is a perception that people don’t want to see a film that culturally doesn’t reflect them.”
“At the end of the day it will be much easier to have a white cast than a cast of color to make films,” she added.
“Talk to any POC filmmaker and they will tell you that. If you have Idris Elba or John Boyega then you can do it and they 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 lead it will be hard. That has been my experience on the film I’m making right now.”
“I’ve always had that with films I’ve made but always stuck with my guns,” she went on to say. “It’s sad for me now because I get rejections from [financiers and distributors] who should know better.”
Chadha has been trying to make the untitled movie for three years, she said, but was told at the beginning that Apple TV+ was forging a similar pic starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, which became Spirited and launched in 2022.
“That came and went – not many people saw it and it could have been much better,” said Chadha. “I had to wait for that to pass and then people were like ‘oh yeah that didn’t do well’. But because it didn’t do well with two stars there is this perception that mine won’t do well.”
She didn’t want to set up her Christmas movie with a streamer, Chadha said. “I’ve done it with a British distributor because if I set up with a streamer I have to sell the whole lot off,” she said. “But if I do it the way I have done it I have the possibility of earning from it every year.”
Chadha, who is also working on a Disney princess movie with an Indian lead along with a Bend It Like Beckham sequel, cited her previous pic, 2019’s Blinded by the Light, as an example of a culturally specific film that performed well commercially and critically.
The film about a British-Pakistani journalist in Luton who loves Bruce Springsteen “should have been easier to make,” Chadha said.
In the end, the film cost £6.5M ($8.3M) and sold for $17M at a Sundance bidding war, she added.
Chadha was kicking off the inquiry spotlighting the state of British film and high-end TV, which is being overseen by the UK’s Culture, Media & Sport Committee and will look at issues such as financing, tax credits and diversity.
She stressed repeatedly the need to focus on British stories and pointed to tax credits as “the cornerstone of why we make films in Britain.”
Chadha started off the session by pointing to “a lot of my colleagues who have not survived as indie filmmakers.”
“They come up to me and say ‘God how do you do it? How are you making a living making films?’. And that saddens me because there are some very good filmmakers who can no longer afford it to live.”
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