Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Directed by Gurinder Chandha (1)

Cast: Parminder Nagra (2), Keira Knightley (3), Jonthan Rhys Meyers (4), and Archie Panjabi (5)


(Watch the trailer)


My favourite quotes – Don’t worry, Miss Bahmra. Our designs will make even these little mosquito bites look like juicy, juicy mangos!”
Look, Jessie. You can’t plan who you fall for. It just happens.”

I’ve never been a fan of football. In fact, I’m more of an ice hockey kind of gal. But recently, I’ve been involved in a lot of football shows – the second season of MediaCorp’s First XI (a football reality show) and weekly live S-League matches at Jalan Besar Stadium. So I’ve learnt to appreciate the game a little more. Which led me to re-watch the film Bend It Like Beckham

I’m Asian but I live in a western-influenced society. Do you know what that means? That means I am torn between my roots and my upbringing. Maybe not as much as Jess is in Bend It Like Beckham, but I can totally relate to her and her woes. My dad is quite a traditional guy, but my mum is more open minded. My dad loves watching Chinese and Hong Kong movies and Taiwanese soaps on television, while my mum would watch Hollywood blockbuster movies or any other English films on HBO or Star World. I grew up getting a very good mix of Asian culture and Western influence. But considering the fact that we speak English at home, I lean more towards the more modern western values and ideals.


Jess: I’m joining a girls team.
Mrs Bhamra: Huh?
Jess: They want me to play in proper matches. The coach said I could go far.
Mrs Bhamra: Go far? Go far to where? Jessie, we let you play all you wanted when you were younger. You’ve played enough. 
Jess: That’s not fair. He selected me.
Mrs Bhamra: He? She said it was girls.
Jess: The coach Joe.
Mrs Bhamra: See how she lies. I don’t want you running half naked in front of men huh. Look how dark you’ve become.
Jess: But mum! I’m really good.
Mrs Bhamra: What family will want a daughter-in-law who can run around kicking football all day but can’t make round chapatis? Now exams are over, I want you to learn full Punjabi dinner. Meat and vegetarian.
Jess: But dad!
Mrs Bhamra: No! This is how you spoil her. No. This is how it started with your niece. The way that girl would answer back. And then running off to become a model wearing small small skirts.
Jess: Mum, she’s a fashion designer.
Mrs Bhamra: She’s divorced that’s what she is. Cast off after 3 years of being married to a white boy with blue hair. Her poor mother. She hasn’t been able to set foot in that temple since. I don’t want this shame on my family. That’s it! No more football.
Mr Bhamra: Jessie your mother is right. It’s not nice. You must start behaving like a proper woman. Okay?

Thankfully my parents aren’t as traditional as Jesminder’s parents. But! I remember when I was in secondary school, I wanted to buy flannel shirts and jumpers to wear but my mum refused to buy them for me because she felt that it was too manly and as a girl I should only be wearing dresses and skirts. Which is ironic considering my colleagues call me Manly Monica or Gor these days. (See the post on the film She’s The Man


So from a young age, I was already wearing heels and long flowing dresses and skirts. Now that I buy my own clothes, it’s mostly t-shirts and jeans for me. 


“Oh it’ll be your turn soon ah? Do you want a clean-shaven boy like your sister, or a proper Sikh with a full beard and turban?”


Thankfully, my parents aren’t rushing me to the alter. But as I get older, I really dread facing questions during the Lunar New Year period on when I’m getting married. Especially since the only cousin older than me on my mum’s side is married with a 1 year old kid, AND my younger cousin is getting hitched this August. I mean, you can’t rush these things okay. Chill!

Jess: Joe! I’m going! They said I could go! (Joe and Jess hug each other tightly)
Men in Background: Oi, oi, oi! 
Jess: I’m sorry, I forgot. 
Joe: That’s okay now. I’m not your coach anymore. We can do what we want. (Joe leans in to kiss Jess. Jess wants to, but pulls back)
Jess: Joe… 
Joe: (quickly pulls away) Your dad’s not here is he? 
Jess: I’m sorry Joe. I can’t. 
Joe: I thought you wanted… 
Jess: Letting me go is a really big step for my mum and dad. I don’t know how they’d survive if I told them about you too. 
Joe: I guess there’s not much point with you going to America anyway. Is there? (Jess shakes her head and they hug each other tightly)


My younger cousin is getting married in August, and her husband-to-be is a Caucasian. No, she’s not Indian, but… she’s muslin. So like Joe and Jess, it’s an issue about race for my uncle and aunt. But on top of that, it’s about religion as well. I don’t know if her fiancé is converting to be with her, but my uncle did. He converted to Islam so that he could marry my aunt. He was a Catholic, and back in the day, my great grand parents were not just staunch Catholics, they were traditionalists too. But, that’s buried in the past  and everything worked out well eventually. But still, it’s something that I really admire about my uncle and aunt. Their willingness to face the displeasure of their families to be with one another is really inspiring. 


But of course, this is very telling of the difficulties one faces with regards to interracial marriages and relationships where religion and beliefs are affected. 


Mel: So are you like promised to someone then?

Jess: Nah no way. My sister’s getting married soon. It’s a love match.
Mel: What’s that mean?
Jess: It’s not arranged.
Hounslow Harrier Player 1: So, if you can choose does that mean you can marry a white boy?
Jess: White, no. Black, definitely not. A Muslin, eh-eh!
Jules: Guess you’ll be marrying an Indian then.
Jess: Probably.
Mel. Sorry. I don’t know how you Indian girls put up with it. 
Jess: It’s just culture that’s all. Better than sleeping around with boys you aren’t going to marry. What’s the point in that?
Hounslow Harrier Player 2: That’s the best bit!
Hounslow Harrier Player 3: Yeah. You should know.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha who herself is married to a “white boy”, Bend It Like Beckham is not the only film of hers to feature the theme of an arranged married vs a love match. In her next film Bride And Prejudice, also covers that topic and is my favourite film of hers. In fact, it was after watching  Bride And Prejudice that I noticed Grinder Chadha’s work. Which resulted in me following her other films like The Mistress Of Spices and Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snogging.


But arranged marriages don’t just occur in the Indian community. My dad’s parents were also married as a result of an arranged marriage. However, I don’t think such matches would work very well in modern times. In the past, divorce is a taboo. But now, people have increasingly romantic notions of true love, and the concept of staying together without love present in the relationship is rare. That is probably why people choose divorce over living with someone in a loveless relationship. Perhaps now, vows should include a clause – “I, _____, take you, _____, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife). To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, or when we fall out of love with each other.”


I’ve always felt that love isn’t the only thing one needs to sustain a marriage. But loving your partner definitely helps make it a little easier to stay together and work through whatever issues you might face.


So when you find ‘the one’, hold on tight and fight for it. Even if its a kind of forbidden love.


Jess: Pinks, how do you know Teet’s the one?

Pinky: I just know. When you’re in love with someone, you’d do anything for that person.
Jess: Pinks, do you think mum and dad will still speak to me though if I brought home a gorah?
Pinky: Who?
Jess: No one. I’m just saying.
Pinky: It’s that coach bloke isn’t it. I knew something was up when he turned up here.
Jess: No, nothing’s happened.
Pinky: Yeah, well you make sure that it doesn’t alright! Look Jess, you can marry anyone you want. It’s fine at first when you’re in love and all that. But do you really want to be the one that everyone stares at. Every family do because you married the English bloke.
Jess: He’s Irish.

Pinky: Yeah well they all look the bloody same to them isn’t it. And anyway why go through so much grief when there’s so many good looking Indian boys to marry. It’s not like before you know. Now they wear good clothes, got flashy jobs, even know how to cook and wash up.

Joe and Jess have a lot working against them. Besides the issue of race, the fact that Joe is her coach makes it worse. I’m not very sure how old Joe is supposed to be in Bend It Like Beckham but I think that its really no big deal to date your own coach. Well, I think it’s okay as long as both parties are mature enough to be able to set their priorities straight.


Jess: Why did you yell at me like that? You knew the ref was out of order!

Joe: Jess you could have cost us the tournament.
Jess: Well it wasn’t my fault! You didn’t have to shout at me.
Joe: Jess I am your coach, I have to treat you the same as everyone else. Look, Jess. I saw it. She fouled you. She tugged your shirt. You just overreacted, that’s all. 
Jess: That’s not all. She called me a Paki. But I guess you wouldn’t understand what that feels like would you?
Joe: Jess, I’m Irish. Of course I understand what that feels like.


Truth be told I’ve dated my coach before. Thing is, our age difference isn’t very great. He’s only 2 years older than me! Mr 7 was my archery coach and we dated officially for a week but unofficially, things were muddy for quite a while. And after we broke up, my training began to suffer. Not because of him. It was because I couldn’t stay focused. Archery is very much a mental sport. Yes you have opponents to compete against. But ultimately, it’s just you, your bow and arrow, and the target board. It’s all you. If you can’t keep your focus on your breathing, your stance, your release, or your aim, you can’t shoot well. And that’s what happened. Instead of focusing on improving my form, my mind would wander. I would think about whether he was falling for another archer on the team, or whether this on-off on-off thing was real or not and many other things BUT my form. Eventually, I decided that being in close proximity of him was not doing me any good. And that’s when I packed my bags and left for Australia. 


Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame him. In fact, if it weren’t for all this, I wouldn’t have everything I have today. And I definitely wouldn’t have learnt how to handle my emotions better. For 3 years I was a wreck. But damn it I let those 3 years go to waste and not learn something from it. And believe it or not, I’m still very good friends with him now. My friends who went through my ups and downs with me during those troubled 3 years would protest violently at my staying friends with him but I see no reason why I should end a friendship just because the relationship didn’t work out. I’ll explore more on this topic in the post on the film What’s Your Number?, so look out for it. 


Joe: Look, I can’t let you go without knowing. 
Jess: What? 
Joe: That even with the distance, and the concerns of your family, we might still have something. Don’t you think? 

Jess: I’m back at Christmas. We’ll tackle my mum and dad then.
Joe: Yeah.
Jess: I better go.
Joe: Okay.

Long distance relationships aren’t easy. But they’re not impossible. (See post on the film Like Crazy) I think the thing is to try to make it work. If you really do love someone, won’t you do anything and everything to try and make things work out?


Same with a sport I guess. If you really love football like Jules and Jess, despite the odds, you’re gonna make it happen.


Jess: It looks awful. That’s why I can’t wear shorts ever.
Joe: Jesus. That’s a stunner. I thought I had a bad one on my knee but yours is gorgeous. Look, don’t worry about it. No one’s gonna care once you’re out there. What happened?
Jess: You don’t want to know.

Joe: Look. 2 operations later and it’s still useless. Yours affect your game?

Jess: Nah it just looks awful. I was 8. My mum was working overtime at Heathrow. And I was trying to cook beans on toast. When I jumped up to the grill to get the toast, my trousers caught light so my sister put me in the bath, poured cold water over me and pulled them off. About half my skin came off too. 
Joe: Sorry. 
Jess: I know – put me off beans on toast for life. 

Joe: Come on. Mine stopped me from playing outright. Yours doesn’t.

So why let a scar prevent you from playing football? Joe makes a very good point here. But what I really like about the scene above is Jess’ humour. 



Paula: Alan, when are you gonna realise you have a daughter with breasts, not a son.

Jules: Mum!
Alan: Paula please!
Paula: No boy’s gonna wanna go out with a girl who’s got bigger muscles than him.
Alan: Why don’t you just leave her alone.
Jules: I’m not gonna give it up.
Paula: I’m just sayin’ that I saw that Kevin last night in High Street with a blonde girl. And it didn’t look like they were talkin’ about match of the bleedin’ day either. 
Jules: Kevin can shag whoever he bloody wants.
Paula: Honey, all I’m saying is, there’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella! (Jules walks away) Sweetheart…
Alan: See what you’ve done? Why don’t you just get off her flamin’ back? If she’s more interested in playing football right now than chasing boys, well frankly I’m quite over the moon about that.

Paula is not the only mum who thinks that football should remain a boy’s sport. Amanda Bynes’ on screen mother in the film She’s The Man also disapproves of her daughter playing football. While Amanda Bynes’ Viola Hastings pretends to be a boy to play the sport, Parminder Nagra’s Jess needs to lie to her parents to play football. 


Jess: It’s out of order. Anything I want is not Indian enough for ’em. I mean I never bumped off school to go dating like Pinky and Bubbly. I don’t wear make up or tight clothes like them. They just don’t see all those things.

Tony: Parents never see the good things.
Jess: Yeah well anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham? 

Tony: Why don’t you just play and not tell ’em eh? Look. Pinky’s been sneaking off to see Teets for years and now they’re getting married. Nobody cares. What your parents don’t know won’t hurt. 

Jess: Well why should I have to lie? It’s not like I’m sleeping around with anyone!

Living a lie, that can’t be easy. Especially when you are lying to your parents.


Jess: My mum doesn’t want me to play anymore.

Jules: That’s bollocks! My mum’s never wanted me to play. You just can’t take no for an answer.
Jess: Yeah but my sister’s getting married soon. So my mum and dad are totally stressed out. Anyway I won’t be able to get out of the house for training and matches.
Jules: Come on Jess. You can’t leave me alone out there. Joe’s got an American scout coming over. Anyway don’t worry about your mum. Just say you’ve got a summer job. I could put in a job word with HMV with me. 

One of the reasons why I love Bend It Like Beckham is because it’s about passion. It’s a film about defying the odds and overcoming family disapproval to do what you really want to do. My parents never objected to my sport. But when I graduated from polytechnic, my mum was pushing me to get a job and to give up my sport. You see, I was training about 4 times a week because I had a shot at making it to the National Team. And I really wanted to represent Singapore in the SEA Games and maybe one day at the Olympics. So making it into the National Team would take me one step closer to that goal. But I’m not like Jess. I folded instead of going all in. 


Jess: Nah! My mum and dad ain’t got a clue.

Hounslow Harrier Player 1: So you mean they have no idea you’ve been playing all this time?
Jess: Nope.
Mel: Where do they think you are?
Jess: At work. They think I’ve got a job at HMV.
Mel: Blimey… That’s not on.
Jess: Indian girls aren’t supposed to play football!
Mel: That’s a bit backward ain’t it?
Jules: Yeah. But it ain’t just an Indian thing is it? I mean, how many people come out to support us?

I’ve never had to lie to shoot. But I can totally understand the dilemma Jess is in. It’s frustrating when your parents don’t get it. When they don’t understand how important something is to you and force you to ignore your passions. 


Joe: Your mum and dad didn’t look too pleased yesterday. Suppose you’ve come to tell me you’re off the team for good.

Jess: It’s not fair. I feel like I’m either going to let the team down or piss them off. And I don’t want to upset anyone.
Joe: Why are they so frightened to let you play?
Jess: They want to protect me.
Joe: From what?
Jess: This is taking me away from everything they know.
Joe: Who’s life are you living Jess? If you try pleasing them forever, you’re gonna end up blaming ’em.
Jess: What about you? I’m sorry.
Joe: No you’re right. I stopped talking to my dad because we had nothing to talk about. Spent a year getting pissed, trying to forget about the game. But I couldn’t.
Jess: Yeah but I can’t just stopped talking to them like you.
Joe: I don’t talk to my dad because I know what he’d say. He’d piss himself if he found out I was coaching girls.
Jess: Well how do you know that? How do you know that he wouldn’t be proud that you didn’t just give up? You should be proud of what you’ve given all of us.
Joe: Then why are you giving up?

But regardless of how much they can frustrate you and piss you off. They are family.


Jess: I’m sorry about the final. 

Joe: No, I’m sorry Jess.
Jess: I got my results. I’m starting university soon I won’t have time to train and stuff.
Joe: That’s a shame. I could have seen you play for England some day. Jules still has a shot.
Jess: She told me about the scout coming. I’m sorry I’m letting her down.
Joe: I asked that scout to come for you too. He’s interested in both of you.

Jess: Me? Why are you doing this to me, Joe? Every time I talk myself out of it, you come around and make it sound so easy. 
Joe: I guess I don’t want to give up on you. So er, are you promised to one of those blokes in there?

Jess: Don’t be silly. I’m not promised to anyone.
Joe: You’re lucky… to have a family that cares that much about you. I can understand you don’t want to mess with it. 
Jess: Joe… 
Joe: And I don’t fancy being busted by your dad again. You better get back.


One of the other topics covered in Bend It Like Beckham is about same-sex tendencies and how it is regarded by Non-Resident Indians (NRI). Actually, Asians don’t take to it well either. However, increasingly, we have become more open about it.


Paula: That’s why she’s been so depressed lately cos’ that Jess broke her heart! She’s in love. With a girl! 
Alan: You’re jumping to all the wrong conclusions 
Paula: But I heard her! No wonder she never looked twice at the Kevin or brought any boys home. I tried to get her nice clothes, you know we’ve had some lovely prints in this summer you know in swimwear and sarongs and that. She never wants to go shopping with me. It was terrible what they did to that George Michael going on about him and his private business in the papers like that! Oh No! 

Alan: George Michael is still a superstar and you still listen to Wham!

But of course there are some people who are still homophobic. Especially if your child is the one who is gay or lesbian.


Jess: Hello Mrs Paxton.

Paula: How could you be such a hypocrite? How could you be respectful here with your lot when I know you’ve been kissing my daughter in broad daylight.
Jules: Mum…
Paula: Hmm? (Paula recognises the shoes Jules lent to Jess.) Take your lesbian feet out of my shoes!
Wedding Guest #1: Lesbian? Her birthday’s in March. I thought she was a Pisces.
Wedding Guest #2: She’s no Lebanese, she’s Punjabi!
Pinky: Do you mind yeah? But this just happens to be my wedding.
Jules: Get in the car. Get in the car. What is wrong with you? What are you talking about?
Pinky: What the bleeding hell’s going on? Huh? What’s that gori going on about you being a leba? I thought you fancied your coach? 
Jess: I don’t know what she’s saying.
Pinky: Jess, don’t you want all of this? I mean it’s the best day of your life ain’t it?

Jess: I want more than this. They’ve offered me and Jules a scholarship to go to America.
Pinky: Yeah, but there’s no way dad will let you go and live abroad without getting married first.

Jules: What the bloody hell were you thinking?
Paula: Juliette I saw you with my own eyes. You were kissing after your match. I’m not stupid you know. And anyway look at the clothes you wear.
Jules: Mother, just because I wear trackkies and play sport does not make me a lesbian! Me and Jess were fighting because we both fancy our coach… Joe. 
Paula: Joe, a man, Joe? 
Jules: Yeah, as in male, Joe! Joe, our coach, Joe, man, Joe! Anyway being a lesbian’s not that big a deal 

Paula: Oh no of course not sweetheart no. I mean I’ve got nothing against it. I was cheering for Martina Navratilova as much as the next person. 

And there are those who are partially accepting of it. As long as the person who is gay or lesbian isn’t your child like Jules’ mother. 


Jess: Do you fancy me Tony?

Tony: I like you yeah but…
Jess: Well good… maybe we can go out yeah? 
Tony: Jess! What’s going on?
Jess: Just kinda need an Indian boyfriend.
Tony: What is going on Jessie? You’re acting all weird.
Jess: Sorry. You know my coach yeah. 
Tony: Yeah.
Jess: I nearly kissed him in Germany.
Tony: Wow! And that’s why you need an Indian boyfriend?
Jess: Well, Jules likes him too and now she hates me.
Tony: Look, Jessie. You can’t plan who you fall for. It just happens. I mean, look at… Posh and Becks. 
Jess: Well, Beckham’s the best. 
Tony: Yeah! I really like Beckham too. 

Jess: Well of course you do. No one can cross a ball or bend it like Beckham.
Tony: No, Jess. I really like Beckham. 
Jess: What? You mean… But you’re Indian! 
Tony: I haven’t told anyone.
Jess: God what’s your mum gonna say? My sister thinks you’re mad about me.
Tony: I am. I just don’t want to marry you.
Jess: I wonder what all those tossers would say if they knew. 
Tony: Jess you’re not gonna tell anyone.
Jess: Of course not! It’s okay Tony. I mean it’s okay with me.
Tony: Well you fancying your gorah coach is OK with me. Besides, he’s quite fit!

A friend once confided in me about his sexuality, and according to him, I was one of the few people he spoke to about it because he felt safe talking to me about it and that he knew I wouldn’t judge him. Perhaps it is because one of my closest friends is gay, and coming from an all-girls school, I know quite a number of lesbians. And I don’t see them any differently just because they like someone of the same sex. I mean, they’re humans, they have feelings too. They’re no different from you and me. 


“You can’t help who you love Derek. You’re not supposed to. When you love somebody, you love them. Look at me. At least you found somebody who loves you back.”
– Chenille Reynolds (Save The Last Dance)

While some people might feel this is a sensitive subject, for me, it’s not so complicated. Who you love is not a reflection of how good or bad a person you are, and that is what matters more. But, this topic deserves a more in-depth exploration in another post. Look out for future posts regarding films like The Kids Are Alright and Brokeback Mountain.

On top of the awesome content, Bend It Like Beckham is really well casted. But truth be told, I noticed Parminder Nagra in the film Ella Enchanted before I watched her in Bend It Like Beckham. And with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it was after watching The Tudors that I really noticed him as an actor. In fact, I decided to watch Bend It Like Beckham because Keira Knightly was acting in it. And thankfully I did because it opened my eyes to the work of Gurinder Chandha.

(1) Gurinder Chandha has directed films like Bride And Prejudice (2004), The Mistress Of Spices (2005), Paris, je t’aime (2006), and Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snoggin (2008).

(2) Parminder Nagra is known for playing the role of Dr Neela Rasgotra in the television series ER (2003-2009) and also played Dr. Lucille “Lucy” Banerjee in the series Alcatraz (2012). She has also acted in the film Ella Enchanted (2004). 


(3) Keira Knightley has acted in films like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Princess Of Thieves (2001), The Hole (2001), Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003), Love Actually (2003), King Arthur (2004), Domino (2005), Pride & Prejudice (2005), Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), Silk (2007), Atonement (2007), The Duchess (2008), London Boulevard (2010), Never Let Me Go (2010), A Dangerous Method (2011), Seeking A  Friend For The End Of The World (2012), Anna Karenina (2012), Jack Ryan (2013), and The Emperor’s Children (2013). 


(4) Jonathan Rhys Meyers has acted in films like Prozac Nation (2001), Vanity Fair (2004), Alexander (2004), Match Point (2005), Mission: Impossible III (2006) August Rush (2007), The Children Of Huang Shi (2008), From Paris With Love (2010), Albert Nobbs (2011), and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (2013). He is also known for playing Elvis Presley in the television miniseries Elvis (2005) and for playing King Henry VIII in the television series The Tudors (2007-2010). He is also playing Allen Grayson / Dracula in the television series Dracula (2013). 


(5) Archie Panjabi is known for playing the role of Kalinda Sharma in the television series The Good Wife (20o9-present) and has acted in films like The Constant Gardener (2005) and A Good Year (2006). 

The Eclectic Reviewer thinks… Bend It Like Beckham is a must watch regardless of race, language, religion, or sexuality. It is a feel good movie that will remind you to fight for what you’re passionate about. And to all the women out there who are manly like me, this film will remind you to just be yourself and try to help your loved ones understand and accept you the way you are. (4 of 5)


* Movie Poster from Wikipedia


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