When I talked with Gurinder Chadha she was hoarse from talking non-stop about her world-wide hit at the 2003 San Francisco Asian American Film Festival where it had been the opening night film. That didn’t dampen her enthusiasm, which has been going strong for over a year ever since her little film became one of the top grossing films ever in Britain. She covered a lot of ground in our talk, from casting relatives to the odds against a film about a Sikh girl who wants to play soccer.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM is an unpretentiously charming comedy about the family ties that bind, sometimes too tightly. It did major box-office in England, where it was produced, and has done more than respectable business everywhere in the world that it’s played. It’s about time it made it to our shores here in the states. What sets this film apart from the legions of others that detail the troubles with cultural gaps is the underlying but palpable affection with which director and co-writer Gurinda Chadha invests her characters. These are people who genuinely love one another even as they drive each other crazy.
The Beckham of the title is David Beckham, the idol of millions of soccer fans in Britain and beyond. The problem is one of those fans, a devotee named jess, short for Jesminder (Parminder K. Nagra), an Anglo-Indian girl who, to the consternation of her tightly knit Sikh family and disapproval of the equally tightly knit Sikh community at large in Houndslow, would rather play soccer than make samosas. When not playing soccer, shes communing with the poster of Becks that hangs over her bed, pondering how to walk the line between dutiful daughter and star footballer, as its called in England. For balance, and to make a salient point about the universality of generation gaps and the minefield that is the mother-daughter relationship, theres Jess teammate, Jules (Keira Knightley), short for Juliette, a lanky power player who has posters of Mia Hamm on her wall. She, too, is having problems living up to her mothers expectations of what a proper woman should be brushing aside as she does the frou-frou of fashion for track suits and a dream of playing professional soccer in the United States. When an American soccer scout takes an interest in seeing the girls play just when Jess family put their collective foot down about her soccer fixation, the stage is set for subterfuge, misunderstandings, and a romance with moody cutie Johnathan Rhys-Meyers that knocks everyone for a loop.
Andrea Chase interviewed Gurinder Chadha on March 7, 2003.