Review of Bend It Like Beckham, a 2002 Gurinder Chaddha Film Starring Parminder Nagra
September 23, 2022
Indian ‘Kudi’ Jasminder dreams of playing alongside David Beckham one day (he doesn’t need an introduction, I guess). She constantly talks to his poster, stuck behind her bed on the wall, like he’s her best buddy. She may be the only straight girl who doesn’t dream of getting into his pants… rather shorts, unlike those bimbos her sister Pinki hangs around with.
She’s pukka to her Indian roots in all ways, except her love for ‘football-shootball’; that makes her mother Mrs. Bhamra go ‘Hai Rabba!’ (she turns like a typical Indian lady to the poster of Guru Nanak, the religious guru of Punjabi Sikhs, every time she hears ‘Football’). Mrs. Bhamra wants Jasminder to get a husband… and learn some cooking – who else shall cook roti-shoti for him but she, right? She has high hopes her younger daughter would marry Teetu, Jess’s (Jasminder’s nickname) friend since childhood. Of course, Teetu will never marry her – he’s gay, still closeted.
Teetu and Jess play football with a bunch of their Hispanic, Indian and Afro-American soccer buddies at a local park. Juliette or “Jules”, an English girl is impressed with Jess’ moves; Jules plays for Hounslow Harriers, a local football team coached by Joe, who’s also her crush. Jules brings Jess to Joe and soon Jess joins Joe’s team (hey, this could be a decent tongue-twister!) without informing her parents. It’s totally a success tale for Joe and his girls on field, but it’s the off-field drama that brings ‘Bad News’ every time.
Everyone’s got problems of their own, so Bend it Like Beckham is never ‘All About Jess’, though Jess is definitely in s##t the most (in her own words). She’s got the stuffiest family you can imagine (they seem stuffy to whites at least. To Indians like me, it’s like watching home!) – a dad who can’t forget his disaster past with goras (whites) and cares for Jess too much to see her facing a similar treatment, a mom whom we know of already but wait… my notes also say ‘she’ll drop dead if Jess is found with a white man’; Jess’ sister Pinki is better that the parents at least but she’s the girl Jess would hate to become – the looks-obsessed bad girl who has no problems having sex in a car (Jess’ shy to expose her bra even in a girl’s locker room, but that also could be because her seamstress comments on one occasion that Jess’ breasts look like mosquito bites!).
Family’s no-no to football – check. Then comes Pinki’s marriage, and Jess can’t keep her secret from the family forever; she doesn’t actually, as she’s caught often, but Joe somehow convinces her to play on.
Jess does play on, mainly because football’s her passion but also because she likes the lean and handsome Joe (cue thunder effect for Mrs. Bhamra – ‘bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk’ * it’s a James Joyce thing). That sours up her friendship with Jules, who sees them almost kiss outside a club.
Poor Jules risks losing Joe to Jess and her mother Paula Paxton doesn’t make it any easier for her – she wrongly thinks Jules and Jess are in love! Paula does clarify that ‘she has absolutely no problems with lesbians. She was cheering for Martina Navratilova herself’, but that doesn’t stop her from getting snooping around whenever Jess and Jules are together – the perfect prototype of a hypocrite. Plus she’s Mrs. Bhamra’s English counterpart when it comes to discouraging her daughter from football.
‘Bend it Like Beckham’ is all about hopes and dreams dribbling their way past disasters. What’s best about this film is that it doesn’t favor only one culture and acts bigoted against others. This makes the movie not just for ‘Indians only’, but just about everybody.
It’s a very balanced film – there’s comedy in it, drama, romance, football and yeah, Beckham! The Indian humor has been tastefully sprinkled in to spice up taste-buds, the drama is appropriately light and breezy and the romance is sweet like juicy mangoes. Gurinder Chaddha, the film’s director, scores a winning goal, and we’re all here to cheer.