You have implied that you have a slightly ambiguous relationship with the tradition of Bollywood films.
With Monsoon Wedding we wanted to make a modern contemporary tale about what its like to live in the Punjabi Delhi milieu that both Sabrina (the writer) and myself are from. And that milieu itself has become Bollywoodised so that although Monsoon Wedding is just like you guys coming to my home for my family wedding, what happens now, which didnt happen when I was growing up, is that a young niece of the house will imitate the latest Bollywood stars dance number in the last movie and perform for the guests as a sort of item. So in that sense, and in the way we introduce that kind of song and dance, that is actually what is happening in our daily lives there, so it was homemade Bollywood.
I did hire the best Bollywood choreographer to do those scenes. I distinctly remember sitting in my friends pool, who had lent it to us for that scene because I couldnt afford that kind of setting, knowing that there was nothing more beautiful than this Gaudiesque swimming pool in the middle of Delhi. We only had the pool for one night so the choreographer arrived and said OK Mira, how many days do I have to shoot this dance number, five or six? and I said you have four hours baby. She just looked at me and said OK. I told her to just fly and wed dance along and thats what we did, we shot it in four hours. It was not like I was pretending that it was Ashoka, or some big epic, it was about making the film in 30 days and it was also about catching the intimacy of our family life.
We understand you lost some of the film, how did that happen?
When we left and everything was wrapped I got a call saying we had lost 300 minutes of exposed footage to x-ray damage at New York airport. It was a freak accident, the dance number was damaged and had to be digitally restored - there was no way we could do that again. The cost of the restoration was the cost of the whole film, all for that one scene. We had to go back to India three months later to shoot the three scenes we had lost again, but after looking at the screenplay for areas that needed strengthening we made them clearer and sharper second time around.
This way we could also buy rain. The original budget had only allowed me one Hollywood rain sequence; the other stuff was all filmed in the real monsoon. This way I could slap rain into everything and make the film look like a really opulent monsoon wedding instead of an independent flick. So we lit acres of Banyan trees in the rain and also for the cop scene, which was all insurance bought rain. Youve got to take a challenge and make it better.
You chose to not only concentrate on the upper middle-class family and have the story of Dubey and the maid, right from the beginning.
Yes, because we are all raised with people that have devoted sometimes 30 years of their lives to raising us, and all of them have a life too. If you are even half aware you know all about it, so its perfectly realistic. We wanted to do a meditation on love and from the beginning they represented this kind of pure, blinding, magic love.
Dubey represents the new middle class. If you want to make a film about todays India its about the Dubeys who, two years ago, were just cronies. Now hes got the phone and the car hes a wheeler-dealer, an event manager. Thats the new India happening right in front of you, so that was the inspiration for his character, and also the realisation that, my God, if you want a wedding in Delhi youre at the mercy of the tent contractors.
Its fascinating the way the family members switch from Hindi to English.
Its totally real, thats exactly how we are. At the end of the film theres a subtitle we are like that only, which is a translation of the phrase thats the way we are baby, its exactly like that. I think people in the West want to have a slightly imperial notion of India. In actuality India is exactly that the fisherman all have mobiles now, things have really progressed and, India being India, we had the ability, even before the British came, to make something uniquely ours its just that no ones really captured it on film yet. Our cinema has a different kind of vocabulary; its more flamboyantly artificial. So the real world is maybe not perceived as interesting, but of course it is.
Do you have an inclination to use this film in order to go back to India and make the films that you previously wouldnt have been able to raise the money for? Or even to remain in America for the same reasons?
I am precisely at that exact crossroads. In the next couple of months, Im less busy now because Ive just finished another film, I will think about what to do. Ive been offered some big studio projects from the big boys in Hollywood. One of them I really like but at the same time I have my own, rather ambitious project. Its set in India and New York and a lot of people are interested in financing it.
I am fundamentally independent and I truly believe that if we dont tell our own stories then nobody is going to. There is that, what shall I do? dilemma but Ill sort it out in a couple of months.