As the first British Asian woman to direct a feature film, Gurinder Chadha occupies an important role as both a spokesperson for Asian womanhood and a challenger of the representation of Asians in mainstream film. Chadha does not wish to highlight the stereotypical Asian attributes of her characters but rather attempts to show the similarities between people cross-culturally. She tries to communicate the English-ness of her Asian characters.
[This essay was originally written for English 365, Postcolonial Theory and Literature, by one of Jillana Enteen's students in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University.]
Chadha's father and mother were both born in then British East Africa, later to become Kenya. They lived there until the political dissension leading to Kenya's independence drove the family to move. When the family tried to move back to Chadha's grandfather's native Jhelum in northwest India, they discovered that the Partition of India of 1947 had divided the country into two nations, and Jhelum had been re-established as part of Pakistan. As citizens of India, which was still considered part of the British empire at that time, they settled in London in 1951. In London, when Chadha's father tried to find a position at Barclays Bank, the same bank where he had worked in Kenya, he was denied the position because of his beard and turban.
Chadha's background as a second-generation Indian living in Britain grants her a unique viewpoint. It was this viewpoint and experience that she tried to capture when she began directing films. She defined this experience of being an Asian living in Britain as a feeling distinctive to herself, her family, and Asians in her same situation, which she defined as apna in Punjabi or "us". Her interpretation of the Punjabi definition of apna or "us" altered when people of all backgrounds and descents identified with Bhaji on the Beach. As Chadha witnessed the positive reactions of diverse people from dissimilar backgrounds, she expanded her interpretation of apna to include any audience who shares her experiences and perspectives. Despite Chadha's intentions, Bhaji on the Beach's message resonated among diverse audiences and affected a global audience, propelling Gurinder Chadha as a popular filmmaker. This experience of seeing people from diverse backgrounds identify with her work "was a breath of fresh air, if you like, in terms of the possibilities of seeing people like ourselves up there" (Koshy, Turing Color 154).
She currently alternates between living in London and Los Angelos with her writer and director husband, Paul Burges. She is also working on her newest project, Bend It Like Beckham, a comedy exploring women in soccer. Soccer star David Beckham is rumored to make a cameo appearance in the film.