Turning 18 years old in April, Bend It Like Beckham was ahead of its time when it was released back in the early noughties. Addressing cultural differences, sexuality and gender issues, social problems are brought to the forefront in this London-based rom-com. Achieving both critical and commercial success at the time, Bend It Like Beckham has gone undervalued in recent assessments of great British cinema, despite Gurinder Chadha’s film being the highest-grossing movie ever to revolve around football. It was eventually adapted as a musical production in 2015.
Produced, co-written and directed by Chadha, the plot follows the 18-year-old Jess (Parminder Nagra), a British Indian Sikh, as she tries to pursue a love for football despite her parents forbidding her from playing for the simple fact that she is a girl. The film also stars Keira Knightley as Jess’ best friend Jules, who is allowed to play football despite discouragement from her mother. Indeed, it is a strong passion for football that binds the two characters.
Jess, short for Jesminder, is constantly torn between football and her family obligations, living a double life so to appease her strict parents, with her mum baffled by her interest in “this football shootball rubbish”. The humour and camaraderie between characters in Bend It Like Beckham are what carry the eccentric sub-plots, with cultural differences scoffed at by some of the ensemble. Its complexities make for a difficult marriage between love and home life, acknowledging that the UK may be lagging behind in its progressiveness. Yet, the overcoming of these problems with laughter is what makes this film so feel-good.
It is equal parts realistic and optimistic in its exploration of racial tensions for a new generation of Punjabis in multicultural Britain. The film resonated with Indian critics, who praised Bend It Like Beckham‘s address of the difficulties in navigating modern Britain as a football-loving girl – which stretches across different backgrounds, as Jules’ (white) mother instructs her daughter: “Remember, Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella.”
The soundtrack is a glorious melting pot of popular 90s artists as filming began at the turn of the century. Scottish band Texas, Victoria Beckham and Basement Jaxx’s ‘Do Your Thing’ provide a familiar counterpart to bhangra music. Both styles are sufficiently vibrant to match the tone of the film.
Fortunately, Chadha’s film has had a positive effect on the development of women’s football. David Beckham himself has a cameo role and donated his royalties for the film to charity. Seeing an iconic British footballer support women’s soccer was a big deal; Bend It Like Beckham proved a surprise success in both the UK and India. This success can be attributed to its honest portrayal of what it means to possess a dual identity: frustrating, sometimes contradictory, yet often rewarding. This leverage of not belonging to a single place is what allows Jess to form her own identity and act as an influential role model for other girls that may be in a similar position.
If you are craving some Brit nostalgia, Bend It Like Beckham is the one for you. You don’t need to enjoy football to enjoy this film; Chadha shows that being open-minded and challenging tradition tends to help when it comes to innovative thinking.
Watch the trailer below: