Hubby makes pic debut

by ADAM DAWTREY

After making her first Western film with the wife, Aishwarya Rai is poised to make her second with the husband.

The Bollywood megastar and former Miss World has just finished Gurinder Chadha’s “Bride and Prejudice,” and is now lining up for the leading role in “Mistress of Spices,” which will be the directorial debut of Chadha’s spouse Paul Mayeda Berges.

Berges is, of course, more than just Chadha’s other half. He’s also her co-writer, sharing the screenplay credit on “Bride and Prejudice,” “Bend It Like Beckham” and “What’s Cooking,” and he directed second unit on all three films.

“Mistress of Spices” is an adaptation of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel about an Indian woman who runs a spice shop in San Francisco. Her wares have mysterious powers to cure the problems of her customers, but when she falls in love with a lonely American who visits her store, she seems to lose her magic.

Chadha was originally supposed to direct “Mistress of Spices,” and co-wrote the script with Berges as usual. But as she became engrossed in “Bride and Prejudice,” it was Berges who took the lead in developing “Mistress.”

Chadha will produce the pic alongside her regular partner Deepak Nayar. Shooting is planned for July, with financing from Isle of Man Film, Capitol Films and equity coin from India. Budget is under $10 million.

Berges previously directed a couple of shorts, including a doc about his own experiences growing up as a Japanese American in Los Angeles, which Chadha says parallels her own first short “I’m British, But …”

He met Chadha while he was running the San Francisco Intl. Asian American Film Festival and living in the Bay Area, where “Mistress of Spices” is set. His American nationality, Chadha says, is one reason her husband is a more suitable director for this material than herself.

“Paul feels the book in a different way to me, and he’ll make a film that a bit more resonant to Americans. I’m quite bold about saying I’m British and I’m also something else. In America that’s a bit more complicated, and Paul will be more sensitive to that.”

Berges is using Chadha’s regular crew, and his wife says she’ll be on hand to assist as required, just as Berges has always been for her. And as for Rai? “There’s no deal yet,” Chadha says, “but she wants to do it and she wants to continue the relationship with us.”

Brits, Canucks row over “River King”

The U.K. has triggered a diplomatic row with Canada by refusing to certify the Ed Burns starrer “River King” under the Anglo-Canadian co-production treaty.

The co-producers and financiers of the $13 million pic, currently shooting in Nova Scotia, are vigorously contesting the decision. If upheld, the ruling will prevent them from accessing U.K. tax breaks, putting the project in severe jeopardy.

Canada’s state funding org Telefilm has warned the U.K.’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport that the rejection of “River King” calls into question the entire co-prod treaty between the two countries, whose terms were toughened up only last year to satisfy the British.

The DCMS reportedly objected to the high level of fees charged by Brit co-producer Spice Factory and its financing partner Movision; and to the fact none of the pic, written and directed by Brit Nick Willing, would be shot in Blighty. But when these concerns were met, the DCMS continued to refuse the project, on the technicality that its star is American.

The pic’s structure depends on it qualifying as an Anglo-Canadian co-production. Co-financiers include Telefilm and Myriad Pictures. But in the meantime, Movision is cashflowing the production on its own.

“We are putting in our own personal money to keep it going, not our investors’ money,” said Movision topper Peter James. “It’s a bit hairy, but if we don’t get approval now from DCMS, we think we will get it by the time the film is finished.”

“But if DCMS had an issue with the project, why not say so three months ago, rather than wait until it’s in production?”

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