After wrapping up production of the Cillian Murphy-Sienna Miller starrer, ‘Hippie Hippie Shake,’ the British filmmaker who helmed ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ was cooling her heels in India like any other backpacker, travelling by bus, going from one little town to another.
Last weekend, Beeban Kidron was in Chennai. “It’s a private visit,” she begins the interview. “I just got back after visiting schools around Belgaum and Mangalore, Karnataka.”
So, did she find material for a film based in India like her countrymen did with Slumdog Millionaire?
She laughs. “I’m a friend of the writer Simon Beaufoy. I am very pleased with its success. I am very interested in the debate going on here about the film. You know, in a year when there have not been too many entertaining movies, it is fantastically entertaining as a movie. So whatever smaller issues there are, I think we have to celebrate Slumdog. I am a filmmaker, so I am always looking for material.”
Her latest film ‘Hippie Hippie Shake’ is based on the memoir by Richard Neville, the editor of Oz, who along with his staff was put on trial in the sixties for bringing out a sexually explicit issue, after the radical Australian satirical magazine launched in London.
“The film is in post-production. Most of the characters shown in the film are still alive and the producers are keen to show them the film and sort everything out. Which is why I am suddenly free and had a month to do something very, very different,” she says explaining her Indian holiday.
Beeban Kidron strongly believes in education that delivers inspiration rather than just literacy. That’s the reason she founded FilmClub along with her friend Lindsay Mackie. “People communicate through the telling of stories, not through literacy. There’s a lack of aspiration, a big problem among children. Hundred years of cinema from around the world is a great tool. The idea behind the FilmClub is to share stories. From Duck Soup to Hotel Rwanda, movies that are not on anybody’s radar are changing their lives. I have 30,000 to 40,000 children in these clubs and I am going seven times that number in two years from now. When someone has something to dream of, something to aspire for… if they can imagine something, then they can work towards it.”
Five years after the Bridget Jones sequel, how does she look back at the film?
“You know it’s great to make a movie that’s so enormous. I love Renee Zellwegger. She’s a fabulous person but more than that, she’s a really, really talented actress. I do feel that if movies were made they were in the 1950s where we had fantastic roles for women and they banged them out instead of rolling out one every two years, she would have been our Betty Davis, she would’ve been one of the women who would’ve dominated our cinema.”
The film opened to scathing reviews but the $70 million on to gross over $262 million.
“Yes, the critics weren’t kind. There were some things I wanted in the movie that came out and there were things I didn’t want that went in but when you make a big movie, you don’t control the last mile. It’s a deal you make with the devil. As a director, when you make a film at that level, you know there are a lot of vested interests. But millions of people saw the film, millions enjoyed the film. The critics were bound to hate a film that was going to cash in on the success of the first film. How could they not hate it?”
The big films she does give her the access to do the small things she wants to do – like the FilmClub or her last documentary project, Antony Gormley: Making Space. “It took me nine months to make that film about a sculptor who wasn’t known and had a thin audience. Hippie Hippie Shake is more mass-based. It’s about freedom, about the sixties, about standing up… the accidental hero sort of a thing. It’s Cillian Murphy’s film really. But I like doing both.”
So films like Bridget Jones are necessary evil?
“Thank you very much. You want to end my career? I’m on holiday,” she laughs. “It was a privilege and a pleasure to do Bridget Jones. Being in the mainstream gives me the opportunity to open another door.”
She doesn’t believe in the notion of cinema being different in the West and here in India. “It’s just that Bollywood uses a language alien to us. Danny Boyle took the Bollywood idiom and gave it to us in a language we understood, made it more sort of naturalistic and look at the response. Also, the idea of that film is very strong. You measure your population in billions. Imagine the competitiveness. The notion of the competition holding you back is very political. I saw Mother India a few years ago. And it was one of the greatest films I’ve seen in my life. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that again.”
She begins another anecdote about Gordon Brown talking to the students of the FilmClub when he was the Chancellor. “He gave them the normal politician speech and told them he had just been to India and had met this huge Indian star… I forget his name (probably Amitabh Bachchan) and suddenly, the room went ‘Woohooooo’. It was amazing to see that kind of response. Bollywood may not be the dominant thing for the chattering classes in London but in that place, in that classroom, on that day, there was no “West” in that sense. We are all closer than we know.”