Having A Ball

Football as a metaphor for growing up?

Bend it, bruise it, heck, just don’t break it!

Yet another caricatured portraiture of the histrionics of a breed of people that entertain in their language alone, "Bend It Like Beckham" is primarily about football, and the rules one has to bend to be able to score!

From the lady who made "Bhaji On The Beach", "...Beckham" tells of a young Punjabi girl from West London who plays football in the neighbourhood with the boys; in her backyard against a clothesline; and in a stadium with David Beckham. The last game only transpires in her head, but as the curtain raiser, it does well to keep the viewer gaping as a jubilant Jess scores the winning goal in a stadium, with scores of onlookers cheering her on to a backslap from the blue-eyed boy of football himself!

Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) leads a hard life. She loves football above all else, but can’t quite convince her conformist parents to let her loose on the field. Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan, the parents, may work the wireless way, but still insist that young girls must not bare their legs. Pinky (Archie Panjabi), the older sister, becomes the apotheosis of Sikh womanhood as she skirts the shorts and does what every young lady her age aspires to - marry an eligible Punjabi male!

Jess is discovered by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), a teenage footballer for a local all-women’s team, who immediately identifies her talent and invites Jess to join the team. Jules’s mum Paula Paxton (Juliet Stevenson) would rather her daughter tackle boys on the porch, than a ball on the field, but is up against her father Mike (Frank Harper), who high-fives his girl right up to game practice.

Jess and Jules become fast friends, and spur each other’s game on, all under the keen eye of delectable coach Joe (Jonathan Meyers), who has one by the eye and the other by the heart!

But Jess has yet to play freely, and sneaking out of her house under false pretexts not only gets her into trouble with her family, but also evokes a word of warning against the coach. Ultimately, though, there's a happy ending - all the glitches and gaffes flood into a victory for all.

Gurinder Chadha has a winner. Having harnessed some of the best talent in British cinema and theatre, drawing especially British-Asian blood into her production, she has managed a film that scores big on performance, content and comedy. Her skills extend to the choice of crew, who’ve handled photography, lighting, make-up and music well enough to have me buy into the whole Punju drama.

You’ll recognize familiar faces among Trey (MTV VJ), Shaznay (part of music group "All Saints"), Zohra Sehgal (grand old lady of Indian cinema), and a couple others from the riotous Brit BBC series "Goodness Gracious Me". Craig Pruess, the film’s composer, has deftly delved into old Indian song and, juxtaposing it alongside mixes from the underground, has you toeing tested turf.

The large gathering of Punjabis at the wedding scenes consists of Chadha’s own family and friends, and - as the credits show - it looks they all had a blast making this movie. Go and watch it - you will too!

This article was first published on 10 Jul 2002.