June 12, 2002 
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Football-shootball hai rabba!
Bend It Like Beckham scores high

Anita Bora

It's a G-O-A-L!

David Beckham and his team may not have reached the World Cup finals, but that did not stop director Gurinder Chadha from making a movie about a girl who is inspired by this footballer's moves on the field.

Chadha who has earlier directed Bhaji On The Beach and What's Cooking? tackles a few interesting topics in this film, including gender issues, cross-cultural differences and matters of the heart.

The Problem: "Who wants to cook aloo gobhi when you can bend the ball like Beckham?"

Not Jasbinder, Jess for short, (Parminder Nagra), an 18-year-old Indian girl smitten by Beckham and his moves. Her dreams of playing football are squashed when her conservative parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) make it clear that they don't want a daughter who "shows off her legs to the world and cannot make a round chapati".

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Jess is sighted by Jules (Keira Knightley), a member of Hounslow Harriers, a woman's football team. Jules invites Jess to join in for a practice session, surprising the coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) with her obvious talent.

Jess starts training with the team, sneaking in and out of the house. Her family is preparing for the engagement of her more obedient sister Pinky (Archie Punjabi).

Anupam Kher and Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham As training intensifies, another problem also crops up. Both Jules and Jess are drawn to their good-looking coach, who is off-limits for both of them. A few yearning looks tell us of a growing attraction between Jess and Joe.

Matters get worse. Pinky's prospective in-laws break off the wedding because of a misunderstanding. Then an incident where Jess and Joe nearly kiss (and Jules walks in) creates further tension.

Pinky is distraught with her broken engagement. Her harried mother (Shaheen Khan) forbids Jess from having anything to do with football. Her well-meaning father (Anupam Kher) keeps telling his daughter how her mother is right. Joe tries to help by telling Jess' parents how talented she is, but is given a cold reception.

Jules' mother, Paula (Juliet Stevenson) is also unhappy about her daughter playing football, because it is so 'unladylike'. While overhearing a fight between Jess and Jules, she jumps to the conclusion that they are seeing each other.

When Jess is about to give up the game because of her family's objections, Joe tells her of a talent scout from America who will be attending the final. Jess has another obstacle --- her sister's wedding (back on schedule, after the misunderstanding is cleared), is on the same day as the match.

So what does Jess do? She is torn between her desire to play football and yet does not want to alienate her parents either.

The Moments: "I like Beckham. No I really like him," Tony, Jess' friend revealing his preference for the boys.

A still from Bend It Like Beckham While touching upon issues like culture and gender, Chadha's script, cowritten with Guljit Bindra and Paul Mayeda Berges (also Chadha's husband) has its moments.

The scene in which Jess' dad, Frank tries to teach his wife the basics of football in their garden over lunch is funny. While Paula's expressions each time she sees her daughter and Jess interact (thinking they are in a relationship) are hilarious.

When Jess confesses her infatuation for a man (yes, Joe, the male Joe!), Paula's saucy comment is sure to elicit a smile: "There's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella."

Again, when Jess is penalised in the field for pulling down an opponent she tells her coach that she was angry at being called a 'Paki' (a derogatory term for a Southeast Asian) and that he would not understand. "But I do," says Joe. "You see, I am Irish!"

The Players: Three Js and assorted family members

I am not sure if the Js in the name were intentional, but between the three of them they do a good job of keeping the ball in motion.

Parminder Nagra whose acting credits include television and theatre is well cast and fits in quite perfectly, at ease with her more seasoned coactors. Keira Knightley (Star Wars: Episode I) has good screen presence, is attractive and comfortably slips into her role.

Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham Jonathan Rhys-Myers, a talented young Irish actor, better known for playing 'extraordinary' people admits it is probably his first chance playing someone 'normal'. With his intense good looks, it is no wonder both his star players are in love with him!

Others in the supporting cast, include Archie Punjabi as the self-centered sister and Shaheen Khan, a typical conservative mother; both playing their part convincingly. Anupam Kher does well with the father-daughter scenes.

Juliet Stevenson probably has some of the funniest lines and delivers them with great relish! Others in the cast include Shaznay Lewis who plays Mel, the team captain, Ameet Chana as Tony and Frank Harper as Jess' father Mike Paxton.

The Score: Where everybody wins.

Bringing us back to Jules and Jess. Will Jess be able to let down her parents' expectations of finding a good Indian boy and tell them she is love with an English (actually Irish) boy? Does she leave him and go to America to pursue her dreams to play professional football?

All I can say is that Chadha does succeed in avoiding a totally cliched ending, by giving it a slight twist.

The football scenes put together by Simon Clifford are well executed and look professional. But the presence of the mike, especially during the close-up scenes (sometimes even as a shadow on the wall), is definitely amateurish.

Jonathan Rhys-Myers and Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham The wedding scenes and the background score have been given the Bollywood touch to maintain a desi feel. David Beckham watched the movie, according to Chadha and puts in a guest appearance (although very brief) in the film along with his wife Victoria.

A fun and entertaining film overall. The film does touch upon serious issues but without getting too deep (or frivolous), and still manages to bring out the humourous and lighthearted angle.

In the end you are laughing, not only at them, but also with them.

Bend It Like Beckham breaks the rules. A preview
David Beckham in an Anglo-Indian film?

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