Bend it Like Beckham
I used to watch Bend It Like Beckham on loop.
Cards on the table here: I’m not a soccer player. In fact, I don’t even watch soccer except on social occasions… maybe. Okay, let’s face it: I’m there for the chips and the jokes. But for some reason, as I re-watched this film so many years later, I found it even more charming than I did when I watched it nearly every day (secret’s out: I’m one of those weird people that doesn’t tire of things for a long time).
Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra, Fortitude, Kingmakers), the film’s protagonist, is the daughter of very traditional Sikh parents who have done their best to strike the tricky balance between preserving their culture and creating a new life in London. Although Jess values her family and her culture, she faces the difficult task of bridging two worlds, recognizing, as she does, that she can never be fully part of just one.
As the grandchild of immigrants and now an expat myself, I can relate. It’s quite a conundrum. Navigating two cultures is something that poses frequent struggles on every level. From fighting for my visa to changing my vocabulary, to frying flat-irons because of voltage differences, the struggle is real, my friends. Let alone the difficulty of explaining (and even defending) my life to people that wonder why I moved so far away. But at least I live and work alongside like-minded people. Jess, however, doesn’t share many interests with girls her age: she’s more into soccer and David Beckham. (And here our similarities end. But props to David Beckham - he’s a pretty cool guy.)
Fortunately, Jess finds a kindred spirit in Jules (Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game, Begin Again), a native Londoner who convinces her to try out for a local women’s team. As rare as such a team is, it is even more rare for an Indian woman to play. Despite this, Jess decides to go for it - even when her parents forbid her to join. Although she is met with some initial skepticism from the coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Tudors), she’s given the opportunity to play the game she loves and, in doing so, fight for what she truly cares about. Breaking structures while maintaining bridges is no easy task, but this is the choice Jess makes when she embraces the world of soccer.
Maybe this is the key to why I enjoy this film so much. It isn’t just the colorful portrayal of Indian culture, or its contrast and clash with the equally traditional English setting; and we already know that, for me, it isn’t the soccer. It’s the passion. It is seeing someone care about something so much that they’re willing to do anything for it, even at the risk of great personal sacrifice. Watching a character achieve their dreams and manage to get their happy ending makes for a story that doesn’t get old (even though David Beckham has long since retired and the Spice Girls have moved to the ah-remember-when category on our playlists).
And even though there is a feel-good conclusion, the issues aren’t oversimplified; Jess and her friends and family grapple with the very real issues that come with going against predefined ideas of one’s role and culture. Most of us are raised to have an order to our lives: college, career, marriage, family. When our lives end up looking different, we cease to fit into the traditional pattern, and that generally comes with a surprising amount of criticism. But sacrifice is always meant to lead to something greater. Today’s critics may end up being your biggest supporters - or they may not. But at the end of the day, your job isn’t to fit into a mold, it’s to live boldly.
This is a lighthearted film that gently teases at the boundaries we accept in our own lives and encourages us to be bold enough to live differently. If you haven’t seen Bend it Like Beckham, you really should. Some things may have changed in the fourteen years since the film’s release, but the spirit and passion of the characters are timeless. And if you have seen it, perhaps it is time to watch it again. Maybe you’ll be inspired to dust off a dream or two.