I love a feel-good movie as much as anybody – but I prefer them to be nutritious. Let’s say I want my escapism to make me think as well as feel. Gurinder Chada’s exceptionally pleasing “Bend it Like Beckham” checks all the marks. It was that rare movie that on a second viewing had me literally getting off my chair as the credits rolled and doing a little jig. (I can’t believe I just admitted this.) This is the coming of age story – of Jesminder Bhamra – who lives with her Indian Sikh family in London and dreams of playing football (soccer in the US). What makes this film unexpectedly rich is the specificity of the ethics and culture that surrounds the story. As we watch Jess come into her own – we get to experience with vibrancy of detail an ever-changing England and its immigrant culture. There’s charm galore in this one.
Last Fall, I got the pleasure of meeting director Gurinder Chadha who is herself British of Indian origin. Like “Bend It Like Beckam” – her films explore the lives of Indians living in England and how they must reconcile the collision of traditional and modern cultures. Although many of her films seem like simplistic quirky comedies, she addresses social issues. Jesminder – is caught between two worlds – and is learning how to navigate them both. Chadha also deals with sexism as well as homophobia.
Jess’ Indian family is very strict and wants her to focus in her studies and not play soccer for she’s a woman. Her room is wallpapered with photos of her idol – football player David Beckham. A poster of him hangs above her bed and she speaks to it about her trials and tribulations. Furtively Jess plays in the park with other Indian boys – and one day she’s spotted by Juliette “Jules” Paxton who encourages her to try out for the local women’s football team. Of course, she makes it but has to figure out ways to sneak out and keep her family from knowing she’s breaking the norm. In the meantime, her sister “Pinky” is planning a big traditional wedding and her family is distracted by all the pomp and circumstance of that event. We also get to see the side of Jules’ world. She’s encouraged by her dad to play soccer but not by her mom. “When are you going to realize you have a daughter with breasts, not a son!” she tells her husband.
Chadha gives enough pathos and the story never becomes too predictable nor a caricature. Her directing merges her Indian and Western influences and her montages are always contrasting the traditional and the contemporary world. At times it is what drives the humor. As when in the middle of the wedding engagement a cell phone goes off – and all the women in traditional saris are reaching for theirs. Her camera work is as dynamic and as nimble as Jess’ foot work on the field. The family works and lives near Heathrow, and Chadha uses the planes as powerful imagery symbolizing tradition and change.
This movie marked the breakthrough for many young actors including Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”), Jonathan Rhys Meyers and future Oscar nominee Keira Knightley. The film’s title refers to David Beckham, and his skill at scoring from free kicks by curling the ball past a wall of defenders – itself a good way to describe the irresistible appeal of this movie.
Mrs. Bhamra: “What family would want a daughter-in-law who can run around kicking football all day but can’t make round chapatis?”
Available to stream on Hulu and to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play and Microsoft.
Written by Gurinder Chadha
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis, Frank Harper and Juliet Stevenson
Bringing “Bend it Like Beckham” to the Screen
In an interview with Blackfilm, writer and director, Gurinder Chadha discusses the making of her film, “Bend it Like Beckham.” “Bend It Like Beckham” refers to Beckham, David Beckham, who is the Michael Jordan of soccer in England. He has this great skill in that when he kicks a ball, instead of going in a straight line, it can twist and bend into the goal, so he’s famous for bending the ball, which I think is a great metaphor for a lot of us, especially girls. We can see our goal but instead of going straight there, we too have to twist and bend the rules sometimes to get what we want.” …I actually set out to do a film about what it’s like to go from being a child to an adult when you really want to do something that everyone’s telling you that you can’t. But it somehow got bigger and bigger and it became a film from the parents’ point of view as well as the kids. Then it became a very affectionate portrait of West London, where I grew up. The film might be read and seen here as an Indian film, but in Great Britain, it’s seen as a British movie and a British hit comedy. In Britain, it’s the most successful British-financed British film ever. It was made a success by the whole of the British community regardless of color or background or whatever. In Britain, a lot of us live in these very mixed environment and British culture take that on board in most case. So when a film like this becomes so successful, it’s because the British people are very comfortable with diversity and diversity in cinema nowadays.” (http://blackfilm.com)
The Making of “Bend it Like Beckham”
“We’d started working on the script quite a long time before because it took us a long time to get financing for the film. At that point, David Beckham was like nobody. In soccer, people knew him. But [most audiences knew him because] he had a girlfriend who was in the Spice Girls, and he’d become a bit of a pinup boy. And he was starting to do ads for Calvin Klein underwear, and he’d become a bit of a gay icon. Originally, the other writer Guljit, who was into soccer, had been all over Ryan Giggs. (“Ryan Giggs is the most successful British footballer of his generation.Over the course of a 20-year career representing Manchester United and Wales, he has carved out a reputation as one of the world’s greatest players.” www.bbc.com) I changed it from Ryan Giggs to David Beckham because of the girl power and because of his whole being comfortable being a gay icon. [Beckham] gave us permission initially to use his name because he wanted to promote girls’ soccer, and he wanted more families to come and see soccer matches. But it could have easily been Ryan Giggs!
In making this film, the challenge was really raising the money in the first place. Most people in Britain were like, “Soccer movies don’t work, we don’t want to do, and secondly, girls playing soccer, I can’t anyone interested in seeing that.” Those were the sort of responses we were getting. But for me it was a wonderful opportunity to show women and girls on the screen looking really dynamic and really powerful and really sexy playing this fantastic sport. I knew it would be popular. It was certainly popular with girls and women. As it happens, it’s been popular with everyone. So I think the difficulty is often convincing people who have the finances that your perspective or the female perspective does account for 50% of the population and should be encouraged.” (Entertainment Weekly)
Chadha on Casting “Bend it Like Beckham”
“I chose them for their acting skills, so I knew they couldn’t play soccer. I put them into 3 months solid football training and they had a coach and everyday they would in and train. They worked really hard at it. Keira, who plays Jules, got concussions a few times. Parminder really damaged her toes and was too scared to the ball in case she broke one. They really had to go through the pain barrier like other athletes in order to excel. It’s only when I said “We could always use doubles, don’t worry about it”, when the two of them said, “No way! We’re definitely are going to go for it.” And they did. But all the other girls in the film play for various London clubs except one, Shaznay Lewis. She’s part of the music band The All-Saints, which is really a popular band.” (http://blackfilm.com)
About Writer and Director Gurinder Chadha
“Chadha’s parents were immigrants from Kenya, although they maintained close links to India, where her father had worked for a time in banking. (The family was originally from the Punjab.) They didn’t find life in Britain particularly easy: her father got a job with the post office but only on the humiliating condition that he took off his turban. Later he had a series of shops in the London suburbs of Ealing, Croydon and Walthamstow, which, she says, ‘declined further and further through the Thatcher period. He faced a lot of difficulties. He probably thought he could have done something better with his life. But he had the courage to live with his choices. He had a tremendous spirit, and you see a lot of his spirit in my films.’ It was scarcely a privileged upbringing, and Gurinder was not encouraged to be ambitious by the world at large. As her father’s shops ran into trouble and the Chadhas moved around, she kept changing schools. ‘Eventually I got to one where they stuck me in the B or even C stream, where I could only take CSEs instead of O-levels. And I was like: “I think you’re making a mistake here.” But I was 14, 15, and I didn’t really know how to handle it. Then I got all grade ones and the teachers were like: “We think we put you in the wrong set” …’
When she decided she wanted to go to the University of East Anglia to do development studies, her teachers suggested a secretarial course, or a lesser university. Gurinder didn’t take any notice, perhaps because she’d already developed an insider-outsider’s habit of independence. ‘I knew from an early age that people didn’t see the different sides of me. I formulated a kind of bicultural identity quite early and I was always very comfortable with it, but I knew people didn’t quite see that. So when teachers said to me: “You should do a secretarial course,” I was like: “You’re bloody nuts. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m not going to do that. You’ve got me wrong”.’ Other people’s readiness to dismiss her only made her more determined. ‘Experiences like that, and seeing my parents struggle, made me think: “You don’t believe I can do that, so I’m going to prove you’re wrong. If you tell me I can’t do something, that’s the worst thing to tell me. And that’s what I tell girls, and what Beckham’s about: you can do it, you can do it better, and you can do it in the way you want.’ She did get to UEA, and for her degree spent a year in Amritsar, which would later be the setting for “Bride and Prejudice.”…An instinctive dramatist, she describes her decision to go into journalism in terms of an epiphany. ‘I remember a picture on the front page of the Sun during the Brixton riots: a rasta guy with a petrol bomb, and a headline saying something like: “The Future of Britain.” And I thought: “Wow! Look at the power of that image”, and I wanted to get behind the camera to make these people three-dimensional.’ She took a radio course, worked in radio and television, and claims her film-making still owes a lot to journalism… Chadha recently returned to Wall to Wall to make “Who Do You Think You Are?” rummaging around her ancestry in Kenya, India and Pakistan…Making “Who Do You Think You Are?” ‘made me realise a lot of things about who I am,’ Chadha says. ‘My story is the story of empire.’
She was already developing “Bhaji on the Beach” when she was at “The Media Show.” She met Mayeda Berges when the film was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and he spotted it for an Asian film festival he was running in San Francisco. A Japanese American, with a bit of Basque thrown in, he became her husband and co-writer. Their first film together was “What’s Cooking?” about four culturally diverse American families (Jewish, African-American, Latino, Vietnamese) celebrating Thanksgiving. The couple live in Soho, with frequent visits to Southall, where her mother still lives, and to America. Since “What’s Cooking?” they have collaborated on “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Bride and Prejudice,” as well as “Mistress of Spices,” a magical realist take on the immigrant story, which he directed. They also wrote a five-minute film for “Paris je t’aime,” a series of shorts commissioned by the producers of “Amelie” from 20 international directors (others included the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven and Walter Salles) (The Guardian) “Her award-winning films – “Bend It Like Beckham;” “Bride and Prejudice;” “Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging,” and others – have earned over $300 million. “Viceroy’s House” released internationally on 3rd March 2017. Her most recent film, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT opened to rapturous reviews and broke sales records at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Gurinder recently created BEECHAM HOUSE, an epic, returning drama series set in India in 1795 for ITV and Masterpiece/PBS. Her films have received Nominations from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, European Film Academy, and the Writers Guild of America.” (http://benditnetworks.com/)