Even though it came out in 2002; Bend it like Beckham is still one of the most iconic movies of the 21st century. And here’s why:
In this astoundingly original movie, director and writer Gurinder Chadha conveys an accurate portrayal of life as a British Indian. The football-themed comedy is funny and entertaining, while also highlighting relevant issues in South Asian communities.
The coming-of-age film, set in Hounslow, tells the story of Jesminder/Jess (Parminder Nagra), a young woman who wants to play professional football. Unfortunately, her traditional Sikh parents don’t support her dreams as it would be “taking her away from everything they know”.
She is seen playing in the park by Jules (Keira Knightley), a footballer for Hounslow Harriers women’s team. After seeing Jess’ potential, Jules invites her to try out for the team and to meet their coach Joe. Played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Joe is a strapping young Irishman who becomes the love interest for both women – later causing tension between the two.
There are many reasons Bend it like Beckham resonates with a lot of British Asian teenagers. Firstly, Chadha presents a spot-on depiction of how second-generation Indians try to fit into a multi-cultural society, whilst also upholding traditional values.
The movie hilariously points out the ignorance ethnic minorities have to deal with on a regular basis. Your peers not understanding arranged marriages; thinking some traditions are a bit “backwards” and the assumption that your parents are setting you up with a rich doctor. The majority of the mild racism comes from Jules’ charming but narrow-minded mum, Paula, with lines like: “You know Jesminder? I cooked a lovely curry the other day.”
The film takes a serious turn, illuminating how racial intolerance is still prominent in society. Jess’ dad shares his experience with racism. He was an avid cricketer in Nairobi. However, after moving to England, he was told he couldn’t join any of the teams and was racially abused for wearing a turban.
He asked Joe: “Our boys aren’t in the football leagues. You think they will let our girls?” Later in the movie, Jess is called a Paki by a footballer in the opposing team. She confides in Joe who explains that even he deals with prejudice for being Irish, showing that racism still affects the second generation.
Despite it being set around the British Asian community; the movie has attracted a wider audience with relatable themes such as sexism in sport and homophobia. Not only is Jess brown, but she’s also a girl – and girls shouldn’t play football. Throughout the film, Paula discourages Jules from playing for the team. She would much rather her daughter wore push-up bras and chased after boys (fearing her daughter might be gay).
Homosexuality is still a taboo subject in the Asian community. When Jess’ friend Tony comes out, her first reaction is, “but you’re Indian. What would your mum say?” However, it isn’t just an “Indian thing”. After misinterpreting Jules and Jess’ conversation, Paula cries to her husband about their daughter possibly being a lesbian – white parents aren’t always accepting either.
Bend it like Beckham addresses some major social issues but what makes the movie so memorable is the incredible script. The film has some of the best quotes to date, for example: “Lesbian? Her birthday’s in March, I thought she was a Pisces?” and “With one of our designs, even these mosquito bites will look like juicy juicy mangoes.” Possibly the best line was when Jess is being accused of kissing a boy and her sister chimes in, “Why couldn’t you do it in secret like everyone else”, in front of her parents.
Lastly, we can’t forget about all the heart-warming, tear-jerking moments. There are definitely some emotional scenes that will leave a lump in your throat; when Joe says he wants to make it work with Jess and they finally get their highly anticipated kiss. The end scene is by far the loveliest, when Jess’ dad finally gets to play cricket with Joe and his son-in-law.
Not forgetting the part where her dad lets her leave her sister’s wedding to play the final game. Or when he gives his blessings for her to go to America to follow her dreams (a dream that he could never pursue). To sum up, Jess’ dad is the true hero of the movie.
Chadha did an excellent job writing for a younger audience but also not making the older characters seem overly-stereotypical and out-of-touch. This movie is thought-provoking, eye-opening and an all-round enjoyable watch. It crosses over to a diverse audience with its humour and relatable themes. It’s hard to find anything wrong with what could be described as a flawless film.