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Films and Feminism:
Essays in Indian Cinema


. "Bend It Like Beckham"

The only thing bad about this movie is its title. Once you get beyond that you find a feel-good, sports, coming-of-age, girl-empowerment drama immersed in a cultural adaptation story that works for all cultures and genders.

Young Jessie Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), the junior daughter of an orthodox Sikh family and a tom-boy who can best most males on a soccer field, idolizes Manchester United's David Beckham, erecting a virtual altar to him in her bedroom. Sleeping under the soccer star's poster, she spills her days' anxieties to the icon as to a diary. Clearly, while not intentionally rebelling against the strict old-world precepts of her parents and the restraints their cultural desires impose on her, she is tugged by a wider reality and a more modern life-style than even her older sister, who is sticking to tradition by marrying a perfect-candidate Indian boy.

Her destiny to clash with her parents' visions for her destiny is started when Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Keira Knightley), a member of a girls' soccer team, spies Jessie's (short for Jessminder) dominance of her soccer game with a set of boys and offers to sponsor Jessie as a member of her team. Trepidations about whether coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) will accept her are soon put to rest by her clever and controlled play. This is a girl with serious talent on the field, enough, perhaps, to help this team win a few.

The recognition of her potential contribution to the team and the joy of being on one increases her devotion to the sport and her desire to follow her dream, even to the extent of deceiving her parents who encourage her only to find a nice Indian boy with whom to have children in a nice Indian household. Though her father (Anupam Kher) was once an athlete, the disappointments in his career makes him determined to head off his daughters ambitions.

But life's development don't always go according to plan and the pull of the sport is going to dominate ill-conceived propriety and unwillingness to adapt to the surrounding influences and a younger generations's freedom of choice.

The clash is not horrific nor momentous but kept within the confines of inter family differences that everyone, in all cultures, can recognize and relate to, setting up prospects for good commercial results. Combined with games that are choreographed and contrived to develop the maximum dramatic effectiveness, you have a movie that can be considered this year's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Call it "My Big Fat Soccer Career", though it's not likely to outperform the former's $224 Million+ at the boxoffice. Perhaps because "Greek Wedding" was there first and, maybe, because of that title. It should have been called, "Playing in the Park With Boys." That would have lit up a few cash registers.

Technical credits are all they need to be with casting worthy of kudos. You don't have, here, actors who you need to train for soccer. Instead, writer-director Gurinder Chadha cast his film with athletes who act. All are as fit and physical as the sport and our need for convincing requires. It adds a tremendous dimension of accuracy to the light entertainment that "Bend It Like Beckham" provides while we fully root for Jessie to win the day while winning our hearts. That she does.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Parminder K. Nagra, Sikh-American girl and her altar to David Beckham

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