Bend It Like Beckham, by Albert W. Vogt III

Because I got caught up in watching my Chicago Bears defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night, I had to interrupt the film schedule given me on social media. Actually, I had to make two changes. The first was a blessing in disguise. You see, all day I had been dreading having to watch Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993). Regardless, I am nothing if not loyal to my fans, and was going to, metaphorically as it were, plug my nose and take my medicine. When looking at viewing options, though, I noticed that it was not available for free on any of my streaming services, and I was not going to pay to own it permanently. The other factor was that the game lasted too long. Normally this is not a problem on Thursday nights as I am awake all night long doing my day job, but I could not justify at that point staying up that much longer. All this means that you are getting a review of a personal favorite of mine, and a film I noticed in recent weeks on Disney +, Bend It Like Beckham (2002).

Jesminder “Jess” Kaur Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) dreams of being a professional football (soccer to us Yanks, but as this movie is set in England, you are getting “football”) player. Her traditionally Indian family has other plans for her future. Bend It Like Beckham begins at a pivotal time in Jess’ family’s life. Her sister, “Pinky” Kaur Bhamra (Archie Panjabi) is getting engaged and Jess is poised to begin university soon (again, British slang). Jess’ family want her to become a solicitor (lawyer), while all she really cares about is playing football. Nonetheless, she wants to honor her family. Her path seems clear until one day while playing a pick-up game in the park Jess is approached by Juliette “Jules” Paxton (Keira Knightley), who plays for a local women’s football club known as the Hounslow Harriers. Jules sees talent in Jess and invites Jess to try out with the team. Jess leaps at the chance. When her parents find out, though, they forbid her from playing. Not to be daunted, Jess decides to sneak out to play, feigning a job provided her by Jules. There follows a series of back and forth moments where either her mom, “Sukhi” Kaur Bhamra (Shaheen Khan), or her dad, Mohaan Singh Bhamra (Anupam Kher), or both, catch her still playing and attempt to keep her from the team. However, it is not only her love of football that keeps drawing her back, but also her growing feelings for her coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). She truly feels trapped between two worlds, and initially she tearfully chooses her family, a decision made all the more difficult by the fact that the final match (more British slang) in her team’s tournament is the same day as her sister’s wedding. Her father sees her long face on the wedding day and decides to let her leave during the reception to take part in the game. Doing so presents one last problem: Jess’ talent, and Jules’, is such that they are both offered a scholarship to play soccer (thought I would switch back to American for this part) at a college in the United States and a chance to play professionally. It is everything Jess had ever wanted, but how to tell her parents? Her best friend Tony’s (Ameet Chana) first solution is to ask Mr. and Mrs. Bhamra for Jess’ hand in marriage with the condition that she be able to go to school anywhere she wants before they marry. Jess quickly puts a stop to this because it is yet another lie, but preserves Tony’s secret reason for making this up, which is that he is a closeted homosexual. After Jess admits her desire to go to America, her dad finally relents, knowing that it was the only way for her to truly be happy. As for the growing relationship between Jess and Joe, while there is some trepidation over her being involved with a “gora,” (Indian slang, this time, for a white person), the film ends with Joe and Mr. Bhamra playing cricket in the park. So perhaps there is hope for everything working out in the end.

I have probably watched Bend It Like Beckham roughly five times in the past two weeks, and will probably watch it more. Anything that deals with day-to-day life in England, particularly London, always has my attention. I love that city, though it is a shame that so many of its once Catholic buildings are now Protestant. Even more, I find myself charmed by Indian culture. I like to fancy myself to be a well-rounded individual in terms of my learning, by there are so many customs in this film that are as alien to me as to their meaning as moon men. I want to know, however. This is not a desire to abandon my Faith or my culture, it is simply curiosity and the joy I feel in attaining new insights into other peoples. Most of these surround the rituals leading up to and during the wedding. Just judging by appearances (which should never be the end of any inquiry), I think a full Indian wedding might be exhausting, but fun. Still, I want to know what each part of it signifies.

Marriage in Bend It Like Beckham seems to occupy an important place in Indian culture, whether you look at Pinky’s celebration or Jess’ own thoughts on the matter. That is a concept with which any Christian can identify. So too are the lessons that Jess learns from misleading her parents about what she is doing with her time. When she finally confronts them at the end, she all but screams at them the joy she felt in competing in the final match after having received her father’s blessing to play. She also appeals to her faith, telling them that she has a gift for football that she did not ask for, but was given to her. She did not like to lie to her parents, and throughout you can see her struggle with doing so. But when Jess finally comes clean, Mrs. Bhamra says perhaps the wisest words of the whole movie, basically that she is satisfied with how her youngest daughter turned out and that the rest “is up to God.” The Bible teaches us that our parents must model Christ to us, and in doing so support us as best as they can. But they cannot control us, and doing so only causes friction. There is a fine line, too, between honoring your parents and living your own life. Jess wants to pursue her God-given talent. Only by saying this out loud do they all come to the understanding that she is basically following God’s will.

It should be pointed out that the Bhamras are not Christian, nor does Bend It Like Beckham attempt to paint them as such in anyway. When they use the word “God,” it is in a way that fits their own belief system. Either way, it is refreshing to see commonalities between cultures. The Catholic Church in recent decades has done much to build bridges between faiths, which I think is great. There is, and always will be, one True God, and I pray for this who do not accept this truth. In the meantime, I seek to show the love that God has for everyone by respecting them and knowing about them.

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