It's a Wonderful Afterlife

Gurinder Chadha, director of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, is planning a historical blockbuster next. Chadha, whose latest comedy It’s a Wonderful Afterlife opens in the UK this weekend, tells me she’s writing a film about the Indian Partition. That was the moment in August 1947 when Britain clumsily split India in two, dividing secular but Hindu-dominated India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It was a seismic moment in Indian history, dividing not only the country but families as well. Chadha is adapting Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s Freedom at Midnight, the story of India’s struggle for independence. She’s currently on the second draft. “This will be my first epic, historical drama,” she tells me.

Chadha is eschewing the kind of feel-good comedy she made her name with, such as Bend It Like Beckham. Freedom at Midnight was her late father’s favourite book. She feels him looking over her shoulder approvingly – as does the spirit of David Lean (Passage to India).

The plan is to shoot the epic next year, but only if the script is ready. Chadha will approach the same investors who provided It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’s £7 million budget. If they pass, she may even go down the internet crowd-funding route. She does not doubt many Asians want to see this epic happen. “It’s a film that’s needed to be made for a long time,” she tells me.

Icon is opening It’s a Wonderful Afterlife on 295 screens. What’s interesting is how much thought Chadha has put into creating a movie she hopes will have wider appeal than just the UK or America. Shabana Azmi, one of the subcontinent’s most famous actresses (“The Indian Meryl Streep,” Chadha laughs), plays a mother who murders her daughter’s boyfriends after they spurn her. Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays Dr Suresh in Heroes, is the male romantic lead. And Chadha, who discovered Keira Knightley for Beckham, thinks she’s found another star in ingénue Goldy Notay.

London-based Hanway Films is handling international sales. Studio 18, one of the film’s equity investors, will release the comedy in India on May 7.

Gosh, I wish I had somebody looking over my shoulder when I type. The only presence I ever feel is my bank manager (fingers collar nervously).