Friday, February 12, 2016

Thoughts on the film 'Bend It Like Beckham'

Last month I chanced to see the film 'Bend It Like Beckham' once more.  I needed a spirited song for a cultural event, and this film (British in origin but Punjabi in spirit) is liberally strewn with them.  Though it's described as an Indian film (in some parts of the US) and a British Indian comedy (elsewhere), it goes far beyond its labels.  It is filmed largely in Southall (London), and now, no one disputes its essentially British (and British Indian) nature.

I had enjoyed watching it the first time, but it was only this time as I sat and saw it in small snippets, that I realized what a terrific film it is (including its very apt name).  What makes it stand out is the attention to detail in in ways that matter - a witty and well written script, a plot that bends and weaves like Beckham's game and keeps one engrossed till the very end, characters and situations that one can relate to and an excellent cast.  It shows normal every day affairs and problems of normal people (no sinister villains or vamps!) who manage to remain relatively positive while dealing with their lives.  One might argue that things are simplified, angst is played down and complex situations trivialized, but one doesn't really get that feeling at the end of the film.  People seem to accept their 'culture' (viewed, naturally, very differently by the immigrant Indian parents and their essentially British children) and to deal with all the confusion that this causes in different ways - through submission, rebellion, deception, confrontation and more.  But through all this, there is an all-encompassing element of acceptance of diversity that is emphasised along with the importance of listening to the voice of one's heart, and this makes the film especially endearing.

It's always nice to see a film about sports people, especially women (who often seem to have have a much harder time than men) and there are very few films that deal with these issues.  This film has apparently motivated many women to come out and play football and a women's football team was set up in Delhi after people saw the film.  Beckham, a supporter of women's football, apparently said he wished more women would play it and that it would become more of a family sport; this might make it a less aggressive game.

The film is filled with passion, colour, bits of music and Punjabi sentences that all fit in very naturally.  Being a Punjabi myself, perhaps helped me appreciate some of the dialogues and music (not all the Punjabi lines are translated into English, which adds spontaneity and a certain element of ethnicity to the film).

I don't want to go on in too much detail about the film as it's meaningless unless people have seen it (and I don't want to give away the story), but this comes across as a film made from the heart.  Gurinder Chadha (who wrote, produced and directed it) said that it was made at a time when she had just lost her father, and while she was grieving.  Perhaps this coloured some of the scenes, for they are much more Indian (and reminiscent of the way families lived and celebrated life in the seventies and eighties) than most Indian films.  So, watch this film, if you like sound and colour, wit and compassion and - football!

(A small note, with reference to how I reacted to the film in terms of the traditional Chinese five elements - the film strongly appealed to my water element as it is about people weaving their way through tremendous obstacles and finding a way out.  Not by aggression or submission but by wearing down the difficulties, the way water does.  It is about moving in ways that people around you may not expect, so as to reach your goal - not in a straight line but in a curve that doesn't lose sight of the target.

Interestingly, Beckham (who makes a brief appearance in the film) is a water person too - he looks a bit uncomfortable when immersed in a promotional song, but is so skillful and sure of himself on the field - a chameleon like transformation, typical of water personalities, that is interesting to see).

I am not attaching any snippets of the film as it's best to watch all or none of it!  There are several versions available online, only a few are full length (about 1 hour and 52 minutes in duration).  However,  I am attaching a link to an interview with two of the lead characters (British Indian and Irish!) taken on the eve of the film's release - I think no one had any idea how popular it would become and how some of the actors' careers would spiral upwards after its release.

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