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Kicking Off the Traditional Mold

March 2003
Kicking Off the Traditional Mold

This gem of a film has a theme which is at once universal, yet specific to many. But it resonates most with desis who are all too familiar with the plight of Jess, its central character, who is caught between her passion for soccer and the orthodox traditions of her Indian background.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was so moved by this sleeper hit of a movie, that he wrote a personal note of felicitation to Writer-Director Gurinder Chadha. It?s also the British and Indian masses that seem to have been similarly moved ? the way it has beat all expectations in both countries.

Such is its allure; even while purportedly dwelling on ethnic themes of culture clash, Bend It Like Beckham tugs at many chords, with parallel universal themes such as the generation gap between parents and children, and the rigors of coming of age. Not to mention the interest it enjoys from soccer fans in general, and David Beckham (caption of British soccer team) fans in particular! What?s more, all this is done with impeccable production value and some fine acting. With Bend It Like Beckham, Chadha (Bhaji On the Beach and What?s Cooking?) emerges as a British filmmaker to watch for.

Bend It is a colorful movie about culture clash within an Indian family in London as they try to raise their daughter, Jess, in the traditional way. While Jess? sister Pinky prepares for an Indian wedding and a lifetime of preparing the perfectly rounded chapattis, Jess dreams of playing soccer professionally, like her hero David Beckham. She has talent, and lots of it. Jess is forced to make a choice between tradition and her beloved sport. Her family must decide if she can chase a soccer ball ? and her dream.

Chadha tells a great story about a clash between traditional values and the challenge of living in a changing, modern world. Bend It has a chock full of wonderful characters such as Jess? old fashioned and melodramatic mother, and her British counterpart, the mother of Jess?s friend and teammate, who are all well developed and significant to the story telling.

The film articulately compares Indian attitudes to British attitudes, especially with regard to sexism and sexuality, amidst the backdrop of soccer. In spite of such weighty themes, it manages to find itself in the genre of comedies! It?s an endearing film that will have you cheering as the credits roll. And yes, sports fans, the soccer scenes are convincingly realistic. (You get bonus points if you can define what ?bend it? means in British soccer culture.)

Bend It boasts an exciting array of British talent. Director Chadha played an active role in the casting and took the opportunity to cast British Asian actors whom she felt never got enough opportunities to show off their talents. Film newcomer Parminder Nagra (Jess Bhamra) marks Nagra?s feature film debut, and she?s a natural. Bollywood superstar Anupam Kher (Mr. Bhamra) marks his first English feature with Beckham. His film credits include Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, and Dhadkhan. Archie Panjabi?s (Pinky Bhamra) film credits include East Is East, and Escape To Somerset. Shaheen Khan?s (Mrs. Bhamra) film credits include Bhaji On The Beach, and Tomorrow Never Dies. Keira Knightley (Star Wars: Phantom Menace), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Prozac Nation), Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply, Emma), and Frank Harper (Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) round out the cast with faces that aren?t overdone in Hollywood cinema.

Bend It Like Beckham is a funny and well-written; a feel-good movie. It is very insightful into Indian culture. Take your parents and grandparents. This movie will give you loads to talk about. Take the kids, but not the really little ones. Beckham is rated PG-13 for language and mild sexuality. The verdict: Go see it!

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