Monday, June 30, at 10:30 a.m. PST was probably not the best time to call Gurinder Chadha. As a reporter interested in her thoughts on this year’s World Cup, I really should have known better: The France v. Nigeria game was wrapping up with about 20 minutes to go.
Chadha, who is based in London, is the director, writer, and producer of 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, which tells the story of an 18-year-old girl who rebels against her Sikh parents’ traditionalism to pursue a career in soccer. Chadha’s ultimate goal—get it?—was to draw attention to the lack of a female and Asian presence in the sport. For many young girls, Bend It Like Beckham served as a vehicle into soccer, especially in the U.S. where the sport is not as popular as it is worldwide (though, if you’d seen only this year’s World Cup fanaticism, you’d never guess).
Though Chadha is not a footballer herself, her World Cup experience thus far has been passionate, emotional, exciting, and all-consuming. Bouts of relief (“Oh god, that was close”) and disappointment (“Nigeria? Oh, shit. Oh, bugger”) made quick interjections into our conversation as she multi-tasked, simultaneously watching the game while we spoke.
“My husband is obsessed with the World Cup,” Chadha said. “The consumption of beer in our house has gone up twenty-fold. Beer, chips, and football. I’ve gotten into it as well.”
Her top choice going into World Cup was, unsurprisingly, England. Unfortunately, her team was knocked off early on, and did not make it to the top 16. Now, Chadha is supporting Brazil. “I think it will be great if Brazil wins in Brazil,” Chadha said.
There’s also a backup plan. If not Brazil, Chadha would like to see another Latin country win as this year’s tournament is taking place in South America. And if not a Latin team, she’d like to see an African team win. “I kind of go for the underdogs,” Chadha said. But, that said, she’s not too thrilled about France and Germany advancing to the top eight.
Often, though, Chadha simply chooses her team game by game. In Sunday’s Netherlands v. Mexico game, for instance, she was rooting for Mexico. “I love to get caught up in the drama of it all,” Chadha said, and drama certainly ensued, both in the match and in the Mexican restaurant in London from where she watched. A close game up until the end, Mexico ultimately lost to the Netherlands 2-1 in the final minutes.
“That’s the thing with the World Cup,” Chadha explains. “You have to watch it with people who are also passionate about it and are passionate about a particular side. They get their hopes up and get emotional and the national spirit comes into play. It really is a truly emotional event.”
With such an emotional investment in the games, Chadha has certainly had a few favorite, and not-so-favorite, moments. High point: Brazil winning in penalties against Chile. Low point: Uruguay’s Luis Suárez biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, resulting in a four-month, nine-game ban and more than $100,000 in fines.
Chadha also has a few favorite players, as well: With no Beckham to worship, Chadha has looked to Mexico’s goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, and Colombia’s James Rodríguez as her World Cup idols. And though Chadha is not participating in any pools this year, she predicts that Germany will make it to the finals in some way. Her husband could be heard yelling from afar that he hopes Brazil and Argentina will meet in the finals, to which Chadha agrees.
For Chadha, the football fever doesn’t stop at World Cup: She’s currently working on a Bend It Like Beckham musical. Chadha is directing and Sonia Friedman (The Book of Mormon) is producing. Music is by Howard Goodall (The Hired Man) with lyrics by Charles Hart (The Phantom of the Opera). The project is two years in the making and can be expected to appear on London’s West End sometime next year. She’s hopeful that it will make it to Broadway as well.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Chadha says of the musical. “Obviously I think the movie is great—a lot of people love the movie—but I think the stage show is even better. What we’ve been able to do is go back and really go deeper with the story and with the emotions. It’s a fantastic, kind of rousing answer to girl power.”
Chadha is also hoping to start a foundation for girls to play football in India, though that has been tied up due to legal issues.
As our conversation came to a close, Chadha suddenly exclaimed, “Oh no! That’s it, two nil to France, damn. What a shame.”
Despite her disappointment, Chadha has high hopes for the U.S. in their matchup against Belgium (July 1 at 4 p.m. EST). Though she did not predict who would win the game, she believes the U.S. could go far—perhaps not to the final, she said, but the U.S. has been playing well.
She added, though, that Mexico was playing well. It’s really up in the air. The conclusion: “I think it could be anyone’s game.”
Find out when the final airs live on July 13 at 1 p.m. PST on ABC.