LONDON — Gurinder Chadha had to swallow a lot of rejection before she got the money for “Bend It Like Beckham.” “Every bugger passed,” she laughs, with the good humor of someone whose film has grossed $10 million in just three weeks at the U.K. box office. It was new distrib on the block Helkon SK, along with the Film Council, which finally had the courage to back this commercially unlikely tale about an Indian girl in West London who wants to play soccer.

After her award-winning 1993 debut “Bhaji on the Beach,” it took Chadha six years to set up her next movie, the low-budget L.A.-set drama-comedy “What’s Cooking,” which was hardly seen outside festivals. It was another two years before “Beckham.” She also shot half a Bollywood film, which was never completed.

But she won’t have that problem again. Suddenly everyone wants to be in the Gurinder business. She’s a hot property, not only in Britain but also in India, where there’s a growing interest in expatriate talent. Chadha’s Indian parents emigrated to the U.K. from Kenya when she was 2 years old.

iDream, a new production and distribution outfit based in Mumbai, is releasing “Beckham” across India in June. The company also has offered to bankroll whatever film Chadha chooses to do next.

“India has a big film culture, and that equals money,” Chadha says. “There are a lot of people out there now who want to invest in films that have an international dimension but an Indian angle.”

iDream, which releases its pics via Columbia TriStar’s Indian arm, specializes in precisely this area. “They are a sort of Indian Miramax,” Chadha says. IDream’s first release was Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding.”

Their backing is Chadha’s secret weapon in negotiations with Western co-financiers, giving her huge leverage to retain control as a producer of her own films.

She’s juggling three of her own scripts. “Having had that long drought, I had a lot of time to write and prepare scripts,” she says. “I want to make another British film. I want to make sure I do something that’s distinctive to me and my voice, that only I can do.”

Her most likely next pic, she says, is an untitled Bollywood musical in development with Pathe Pictures, about two weddings, one in England and one in India. Also in the running is “Are You Experienced?,” adapted from William Sutcliffe’s comic novel about the misadventures of a couple of Brit backpackers traveling around India, which she’s developing with U.K. distrib Momentum Pictures.

She also has “The Mistress of Spices” in the works with Mike Newell’s 50 Cannons.

Meanwhile, iDream is planning an innovative dual-release strategy for “Beckham.” A subtitled version will go the conventional route to the college crowd in the big cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Calcutta. But the company also will take a dubbed Hindi version into the Bollywood heartlands of the Punjab and the rural south.

“At its core, it’s a very Indian-themed movie,” says Chadha. “It’s about how to be a good Indian daughter.”

Bettany tunes up for ‘Brian Jones’

Paul Bettany, freshly inked to reteam with Russell Crowe in Peter Weir’s 19th-century naval drama “The Far Side of the World,” suddenly seems to be the most sought-after young film actor in Britain.

Although not officially attached to anything after the Weir pic finishes shooting in October, he is being packaged with helmer Paul McGuigan (who directed him in “Gangster No. 1″ and “The Reckoning”) to play the doomed Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, in the long-awaited biopic being developed by Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell.

Bettany also is lining up for the adaptation of Elizabeth Smart’s classic meller “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept,” which Mike Figgis is developing.

Bettany also is due to take the lead opposite Kirsten Dunst in Working Title’s tennis romance “Wimbledon,” directed by Richard Loncraine. This project, originally due to shoot at the All-England Club during and after this summer’s championships, now has been pushed back to next May because of scheduling problems. That may free Dunst to take the eponymous role in “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” due to shoot in August.

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