Bhaji on Venice Beach; Seven Years after Her Movie Debut, Director Gurinder Chadha Is Mixing with the Hollywood Big Boys

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Byline: REBECCA MARLING BARRIE

AFTER the international success of 1994's Bhaji on the Beach, a moving and funny tale about a group of Asian women on a day trip to Blackpool, the film's beautiful, opinionated director, Gurinder Chadha, seemed to vanish from the film world. But seven years on, she's about to make a spectacular comeback with her new movie, What's Cooking? And as that opens, she's at Shepperton Studios making another feature, Bend it Like Beckham, the title of which has already got the press at her door.

What's Cooking? was shot in Los Angeles and stars Julianna Margulies in her first role since leaving ER.

The question is: why did it take seven years to follow Bhaji? Chadha blames the British film industry for not picking up on her talents after her successful debut.

"I was the first British Asian woman to make a feature film in the UK and was surprised not to be offered more movies," she says. "I took Bhaji to LA and the city loved it. I was invited into studios and offered movies to make but - I know this sounds terrible - I just didn't fancy anything they showed me."

While there, Chadha met and married Paul Mayeda Berges and also fell in love with his city.

"LA is so diverse - a bit like London, but where in London we have an Italian deli on the corner and an Indian restaurant on the high Street, LA has hundreds of acres of land that are, at least on the surface, just for Latinos, blacks, Chinese, whatever. What I discovered, through my new friends and family, is that Los Angeles is becoming more integrated. As in London, one street can house three or four different cultures."

It was that diversity of culture that inspired What's Cooking? Chadha, born in Kenya and raised by Sikh parents in England, believes that it is the first film about the city to celebrate its multiculturalism. "The LA you usually see in the movies is quite sanitised. It's Rodeo Drive, Baywatch beaches or, at its most daring, hookers on Sunset Strip. I decided to try and make a movie about the real LA. I wanted to depict the normality of ethnic diversity."

She seems to have succeeded, with a review in the LA Times hailing it as "the only movie ever made in LA where everyone who lives in the city will recognise it as their own."

What's Cooking? tells the story of four families - Jewish, Latino, African American and Vietnamese - as they prepare for Thanksgiving Day. Echoing Robert Altman's Short Cuts, the families are seen in isolation before their worlds collide.

In the film, Thanksgiving is presented as a weekend of reunion; stuffed full of tension, unwanted guests, accidents, sibling rivalry, prejudice and politics.

Each family has its own story to tell.

The film is intimate and voyeuristic. …