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Jesminder Bhamra Essay Definition

Bend It Like Beckham and “Bending” the Rules

Jamie Rees

Bend It Like Beckham is primarily a film about soccer. However, because the protagonist is part of a traditional Indian family, food plays an important role in the film. Jesminder Bhamra, nicknamed “Jess,” comes into conflict with her family, especially her mother, over her love of soccer. She meets Juliette “Jules” Paxton, who encourages her to join her team, the Hounslow Harriers. Jesminder accepts her invitation and joins the team despite the wishes of her mother. The situation with her family is further complicated because of her sister’s upcoming wedding and the stress it puts on the entire Bhamra family. Despite cultural differences, Jess and Jules both find themselves in a situation where their mothers do not approve of their dedication to playing sports. The title of the film cues the viewer in to the tension between Mrs. Bhamra and Mrs. Paxton and their daughters because of how they “bend” established cultural and gender roles. The mothers often appear with food, which becomes associated with their opposition to their daughters’ unfeminine behavior. By the end of the film, it becomes a vehicle through which they come to accept (in Jess’s case) and understand (in Jules’s case) their daughter’s choices.

The role of women is at the core of many traditional cultures and is important to their survival. (Linda C. McClain. “Bend It like Beckham and Real Women Have Curves: Constructing Identity in Multicultural Coming-of-Age Stories.” (Depaul Law Review, 2004-2005) 701-702.) According to feminist philosopher Uma Narayan, cooking is especially emblematic of Indian culture, therefore a proper Indian woman should know how to cook. (Quoted in McClain 712.) Mrs. Bhamra is an excellent example of ideal Indian femininity because she is almost always shown preparing, serving, or eating food. The preparation of these meals is a symbol of continuity of culture, as are her attempts to teach her daughters. (McClain 712.) When Jess shows no interest in learning to cook, she is acting outside of proper gender roles and jeopardizing her future within the Indian community as well as bringing shame to her family within it. (Shoba S. Rajgopal. “The Politics of Location: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Conflict in the Cinema of the South Asian Diaspora.” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2003) 55, 59.) A scene that illustrates this is the argument between Jess and her mother after she discovers that Jess has joined a girls’ team. Jess is seated on the couch, her parents looming over her. Mrs. Bhamra expresses worry about the only future she can perceive for her daughter: “What family will want a daughter-in-law who can run around kicking football all day but can’t make round chapattis?” After a failed appeal to her father, Jess’s mother declares “That’s it, no more football!” (Bend It Like Beckham. Dir. Gurider Chada. Perf. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, DVD, Twentieth Centruy Fox, 2002, Scene 8 “No More Football.”) Bhamra is motivated by a desire to pass on traditional Punjabi culture and sees cooking as one way to ensure a good future–i.e. marriage–for her daughter. Jess considers the cooking lessons to be yet another  way for her mother to control her future and force her into a certain feminine ideal. When she brings soccer into the kitchen as an assertion of her own identity, it can be interpreted as a threat to her culture. Like many coming-of-age stories, a breakdown of communication turns a parent’s good intentions into unfair attempts to ruin his or her child’s life.

There is a similar disconnect between Jules and Mrs. Paxton. Even though Jules’s family represents the average family living in Hounslow in the early twenty-first century, there is a certain image of femininity to which Mrs. Paxton expects her daughter to conform. Like Mrs. Bhamra, Mrs. Paxton is more of a caricature than a fully fleshed character with regards  to her attitude towards her daughter. (McClain 714.) Perhaps even more ridiculous, however, is her obsessive fear that playing soccer has affected her daughter’s sexuality. In one scene, Jess goes to the Paxton house to talk to Jules. Mrs. Paxton’s very first comment to Jess is in reference to food: “You know, I cooked a lovely curry the other day.” (Bend It Like Beckham, Scene 19, “Betrayed.”) This is one way she is made even more outrageous: she attempts to use food as a way to associate herself with what she perceives as the Indian ideal of the female cook/preserver of tradition, and to cover up the fact that she has so little in common with her daughter. In this sense, food is a way to add authenticity. (Timothy Shary and Alexandra Seibel. Youth Culture in Global Cinema. (Austin: University of Texas, 2007) 193.) As the scene continues, Jess and Jules argue about who has the right to pursue a relationship with their coach, Joe. Mrs. Paxton overhears them as she brings up a tray of tea and cheese. Having missed the beginning of the conversation, she believes that she is overhearing a lovers’ quarrel. The camera then cuts to Mrs. Paxton crying on the couch about this revelation even though untrue and based on speculation of a half-heard conversation. Tea, like any other meal, offers a chance for people to sit down, talk, and come to understand each other. (Warren Belasco. Food: The Key Concepts. (Oxford: Berg, 2008) 37.) In this scene, Mrs. Paxton jumps to a conclusion and is so horrified that she cannot begin to conceive talking to her daughter about it. Once again, the mother figure bearing food is unable to understand her daughter’s perspective.

Jules’s mother is the first of the two mothers to make an attempt to understand her daughter’s obsession with soccer. She does this literally through the use of food. The scene starts with Mr. and Mrs. Paxton at their patio table enjoying a glass of wine as they wait for Jules to get home for dinner. All sorts of condiment and spice bottles are arranged on the table like players on a soccer field. Jules enters and sees her father teaching her mother the rules of the game, and notices that her mother has read a stack of magazines about soccer. In Mrs. Paxton’s words, she’s “got to take an interest” or she’s going to lose Jules. In her words: “That way, we can all enjoy football [soccer] as a family.” (Bend It Like Beckham, Scene 23 “Worried About Jess.”) Her ultimate goal is to keep her family together. By doing research on professional female players, Mrs. Paxton also learns that there is at least one who is married with a baby. This reveals anxiety about the continuation of her family that is similar to that in Jess’s household. This is not the scene of the film in which Mrs. Paxton comes to fully accept her daughter. By pointing out the example of the married player, she is trying to encourage Jules to pursue this type of relationship rather than her imagined relationship with Jess. (McClain 722.) If she did not have this impression of Jess and Jules’s relationship, it would be the end of this particular conflict between Mrs. Paxton and Jules. Regardless, the resolution that begins during this scene occurs because she has finally taken the time to sit down to a meal with her daughter and talk to her. Though it is only half of the actual problem, it is a good beginning to its resolution. Just as Belasco argues, the meal “enables a key conversation” and brings Mrs. Paxton back into harmony with the rest of her family.

Jesminder and her mother come to an understanding only after the stress of her sister’s wedding is over. Jess managed to leave the wedding to play a match in front of an American scout and has been offered a full scholarship to play college soccer in California. She comes clean to her parents after the stress of the wedding has passed and the family is sitting around eating leftovers and drinking coffee. The way the group (mostly women) is arranged around Jess is reminiscent of earlier party scenes. (Irene Gedalof. “Finding Home in Bend It Like Beckham and Last Resort.” (Camera Obscura: Jan 2011) 137.) It is not especially threatening thanks to the brightly colored decor, but still represents a wall of female elders who place great importance on proper behavior and tradition. Jess suddenly has so much to lose that she explains her opportunity to her family, especially her mother. She begs them to understand that playing soccer makes her happy. Her father is the first to accept this fact. He says, “Two daughters made happy on one day–what more can a father ask for?” (Bend It Like Beckham, Scene 30 “No More Lies”) He recognizes that his daughter identifies with an English definition of what it means for a woman to be “happy” rather than an Indian one, and that it makes her no less Indian and no less his daughter. She has created a new identity that is an amalgam of Indian and British culture. (Rajgopal 56.) Immediately after Mr. Bhamra speaks, Mrs. Bhamra relents: “At least I’ve taught her full Indian dinner–the rest is up to her!” (Bend It Like Beckham, Scene 30 “No More Lies.”) She can be proud that she has taught her daughter how to cook a “full Punjabi dinner, meat and vegetarian,” (Bend It Like Beckham, Scene 8 “No More Football.”) symbolizing the rest of her Indian heritage, and is slightly more comfortable in sending her out into the world. She recognizes that she must be willing to give up some of her parental control and accept her daughter as an individual. Even if she does not fully understand her daughter’s happiness, she accepts it as a reality.

By the end of Bend It Like Beckham, both daughters have managed to “bend” gender rules in order to pursue their dream of becoming professional soccer players. The mothers, who are usually shown cooking or otherwise working with food, come to terms with this future through food. Mrs. Bhamra is initially a roadblock to Jess’s future as a soccer player, with her feet firmly rooted in the kitchen. She finally is willing to let her daughter go after she is certain that Jess is able to continue her Indian heritage as symbolized by Indian cuisine. Mrs. Paxton is a less daunting obstacle to Jules, but her actions show how the conflict over soccer is starting to alienate her from her daughter. She bears a tray of food at the height of this alienation, then later uses food after finally making an effort to understand and support her daughter. Because this film is a comedy, the final results are happy: two content families, two best friends, and a new and multicultural definition of what it means to be a young British woman.

For the 2015 West End musical, see Bend It Like Beckham (musical).

Bend It Like Beckham is a 2002 British-German romanticcomedy-dramasports film produced, written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, and starring Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Shaznay Lewis and Archie Panjabi.

The film's title refers to the football player David Beckham, and his skill at scoring from free kicks by curling the ball past a wall of defenders. It follows the 18-year-old daughter of PunjabiSikhs in London. She is infatuated with football but her parents have forbidden her to play because she is a girl. She joins a local women's team, which makes its way to the top of the league.

Bend It Like Beckham was released theatrically on 12 April 2002 by Redbus Film Distribution, and on DVD and VHS on 18 November 2002 by Warner Home Video. The film surprised critics and was met with mostly positive reviews. It earned over $76 million on a $6 million budget. A stage musical version opened at London's Phoenix Theatre on 24 June 2015.[3]


Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is the 18-year-old daughter of PunjabiSikhs living in Hounslow, London. Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Keira Knightley) is the same age and the daughter of a native English family. Jess is infatuated with football, but because she is a woman, her family won't let her play. In Indian culture, women are not supposed to play football and are not allowed to show much skin. However, she sometimes plays in the park with boys, including her best friend, Tony (Ameet Chana), a closeted gay man.

Whilst on a jog through the park, Jules discovers Jess's skills, befriends her, and invites her to try out for the local women's football team, the Hounslow Harriers coached by Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Jess is extremely happy and excited about the tryouts, even though Joe is sceptical about a new player joining the team. After seeing Jess's skills, Joe accepts her on the team and Jess lies to Joe about her parents being cool with the idea.

Jess's parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) eventually discover that Jess has been playing football behind their backs. They become more strict and forbid Jess to play in any more matches. The elder Bhamras are also distracted by their elaborate wedding plans for Jess's older sister, Pinky (Archie Panjabi). Thanks to the skills of Jess and Jules, the Harriers reach the finals of the league tournament. Unfortunately, the finals and Pinky's wedding fall on the same day.

Joe pleads with Mr Bhamra to allow Jess to play, but Mr Bhamra refuses, which reveals that he does not want Jess to suffer the way he did when he was excluded from a cricket club because of being Indian. Jess develops an attraction toward Joe, and when the team plays in Hamburg, Germany and goes out clubbing, they're caught by Jules when about to kiss. Jules also has a crush on Joe, and this sours the two girls' friendship, as Jules is adamant that she had told Jess about her crush. When Jess goes to Jules's house to try to patch up their friendship, Jules's mother (Juliet Stevenson) is misled and thinks they're hiding a lesbian relationship.

Joe accepts that Jess is not allowed to play and the final begins without her. But halfway through Pinky's wedding, Tony convinces Mr Bhamra to let Jess go. He agrees, and Tony drives Jess to the game, where the Harriers are losing 1–0 with half an hour left. Jess and Jules tie the score, and when Jess is awarded a free kick, she must bend the ball around the wall of players to score. She succeeds and the Harriers win the tournament. Jess and Jules are offered sports scholarships at Santa Clara University in California, which Jules tells her parents immediately, whereas Jess has trouble telling hers. Jules and her mother arrive at Pinky's wedding so that Jules can celebrate with Jess. When Mrs Paxton accuses Jess of being a hypocrite and a lesbian, Jules grabs her mother and runs off in shame.

Jess has still not told her parents about the scholarship – she is afraid they might not allow her to go to the United States on her own. Tony, out of friendship for Jess, decides to lie to the family and tell them he is engaged to Jess as long as she gets to go to any college she wants. Jess reveals the lie and her mother blames Jess's father for allowing her to play. Jess's father convinces her mother to accept Jess's wishes after telling her he doesn't want Jess to suffer as he did. Jess flees to the football field to tell Joe of her parents' decision. The two almost kiss, but Jess pulls away, saying her parents would object, and that although they had come far enough to let her go to America to play, she doesn't think they would be able to handle another cultural rebellion from her.

On the day of Jess and Jules's flight to America, Jules's mother gives her daughter a football jersey and wishes her good luck, this being her way of telling her daughter that she has accepted Jules's decision. The two are about to board the plane when Joe arrives and confesses his love for Jess. The two kiss and Jess agrees to sort out their relationship (and her parents) when she returns for Christmas. While at the airport, they see David Beckham with his wife Victoria, which Jules takes as a sign. Jess and Jules send their parents a team photograph, and it is revealed that Pinky is pregnant. Finally, Mr Bhamra is seen practising cricket with Joe's help.



Gurinder Chadha co-wrote the script with Guljit Bindra and screenwriting partner Paul Mayeda Berges. Nayar and Chadha actively pursued financing for the film at Sundance Film Festival. Having previously worked with Road Movies, a German production company on several other projects, Nayar approached them and they came on board, followed by British Screen and The Film Council.

Helkon SK, formerly known as Redbus, picked up the script. Fox Searchlight Pictures picked up the rights for distribution in the United States at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002.[4]


Principal photography began on 18 June 2001. A variety of locations around London and Shepperton Studios were used for the nine-week shoot, with the semi-final taking place over a three-day period in Hamburg, Germany.[4]


Chadha, who played an active role in casting, chose Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, who would play the two lead roles in the film, while Archie Panjabi and Jonathan Rhys Meyers were in early talks to join the cast. Shaznay Lewis and Anupam Kher were also in final talks. Juliet Stevenson and Frank Harper joined as Paula Paxton and Alan Paxton, mother and father of Jules.

For the role of Jess's mother, Mrs Bhamra, Chadha turned to Shaheen Khan, whom she had previously cast in Bhaji on the Beach. Anupam Kher, a Bollywood actor, was cast as Mr Bhamra, Jess's father. Chadha worked with The Football Association and ended up casting actual players from a variety of school teams.[4]



Bend It Like Beckham was released theatrically on 12 April 2002 by Redbus Film Distribution. The film then received a limited theatrical release in the United States on 12 March 2003, by Fox Searchlight Pictures. When originally released in the United Kingdom, it topped the country's box office for the next three weekends, before being overtaken by About a Boy.[5][6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and VHS on 18 November 2002 by Warner Home Video. Among the DVD bonus features, there are several scenes that did not make the final release. Some include dialogue from Pinky's friends and from Jules, as well as her mother meeting Kevin and his friends outside a shop, which would have been helpful, as Kevin is mentioned three times but is never seen.


Critical response[edit]

The film surprised critics and met with mostly positive reviews. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times noted that the film "was really full of easy humor, an impeccable sense of milieu that is the result of knowing the culture intimately enough to poke fun at it while understanding its underlying integrity."[7]

The Times of India noted the film's social context, saying, "[it] is really about the bending of rules, social paradigms and lives – all to finally curl that ball, bending it like Beckham, through the goalpost of ambition.... The creeping divide shows that Britain is changing, but hasn't quite changed yet. The stiff upper lip has travelled miles from the time Chadha's father was denied a pint at some pubs at Southall, but like dollops of coagulated spice in badly stirred curry, discrimination crops up to spoil the taste, every now and then, in multi-racial Britain."[8]

Planet Bollywood gave the film a mark of 9 out of 10: the "screenplay not only explores the development of Jesse as a person, but also the changing values and culture of NRI teens: Jesse's urge to break the social norm of the Indian home-maker, her sister's (Archie Punjabi) sexually active relationship, and the gay Indian [Tony, played by Ameet Chana]."[9]

The Hindu argued, "If ever there is a film that is positive, realistic and yet delightful, then it has to be Dream Production's latest venture directed by Gurinder Chadha.... Light-hearted, without taking away the considerable substance in terms of values, attitudes and the love for sport, the film just goes to prove that there are ways to be convincing and honest."[10]

The BBC gave it 4 out of 5 stars, and argued that "Mr Beckham ought to be proud to have his name on such a great film."[11] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives Bend It like Beckham a rating of 85 per cent based upon 147 reviews (125 fresh and 22 rotten).[12] The British film was distributed by iDream Productions in India,[13] and went on to set the record in India for most number of tickets sold during a single weekend for a foreign movie.

Box office[edit]

Bend It Like Beckham also became the highest grossing Indian-themed film ever in the United States, with $32 million in box office revenue.[14]





The release of the soundtrack in the United Kingdom features bhangra music, and songs by the Spice Girls' Victoria Beckham and Melanie C and rock band Texas. It also features "Baddest Ruffest" by Backyard Dog, the aria Nessun Dorma, from Puccini's Turandot and excerpts from dance band Basement Jaxx. The USA release rearranges the tracks and excludes some material. "Dream the Dream" appears in the movie but did not make the final cut on the soundtrack.

Release (United Kingdom)[edit]

  1. Craig Pruess & Bally Sagoo Feat. Gunjan – "Titles"
  2. Blondie – "Atomic"
  3. Backyard Dog – "Baddest Ruffest"
  4. B21 – "Darshan"
  5. (Movie Dialogue) – "It's Beckham's Corner"
  6. Victoria Beckham – "I Wish"
  7. (Movie Dialogue) – "Learn To Cook Dahl"
  8. Malkit Singh – "Jind Mahi"
  9. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – "Tere Bin Nahin Lagda"
  10. Bally Sagoo Feat Gunjan – "Noorie"
  11. (Movie Dialogue) – "Juicy Juicy Mangoes"
  12. Basement Jaxx – "Do Your Thing"
  13. (Movie Dialogue) – "Eyes Down"
  14. Texas – "Inner Smile"
  15. Melanie C – "Independence Day"
  16. (Movie Dialogue) – "Can't Make Round Chapattis"
  17. Hans Raj Hans – "Punjabiyan Di Shaan"
  18. Gunjan – "Kinna Sohna"
  19. Tito Beltrán – "Nessun Dorma"
  20. (Movie Dialogue) – "The Offside Rule Is"
  21. Bina Mistry – "Hot Hot Hot"
  22. Craig Pruess & Bally Sagoo Feat. Gunjan – "Hai Raba!"
  23. Curtis Mayfield – "Move on Up"

Release (United States)[edit]

  1. Craig Pruess & Bally Sagoo Feat. Gunjan – "Titles"
    • (Movie Dialogue) – "It's Beckham's Corner"
  2. Texas – "Inner Smile"
  3. Malkit Singh – "Jind Mahi"
  4. Bally Sagoo Feat Gunjan – "Noorie"
    • (Movie Dialogue) – "Learn To Cook Dahl"
  5. Victoria Beckham – "I Wish"
    • (Movie Dialogue) – "Juicy Juicy Mangoes"
  6. Gunjan – "Kinna Sohna"
  7. Partners in Rhyme (featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) – "Tere Bin Nahin Lagda"
    • (Movie Dialogue) – "Can't Make Round Chapattis"
  8. Melanie C – "Independence Day"
  9. B21 – "Darshan"
    • (Movie Dialogue) – "Eyes Down"
  10. Bina Mistry – "Hot Hot Hot"
  11. Blondie – "Atomic"
  12. Craig Pruess & Bally Sagoo Feat. Gunjan – "Hai Raba!"
  13. Tito Beltrán – "Nessun Dorma"

North Korean broadcast[edit]

To mark the tenth anniversary of North Korea's relations with the United Kingdom, an edited version of Bend It Like Beckham was broadcast on North Korean state television on 26 December 2010, Boxing Day. The British Ambassador to South Korea, Martin Uden, said it was the "first ever Western-made film to air on television" in North Korea.[16]

Stage musical[edit]

Main article: Bend It Like Beckham the Musical

A stage musical version of the film opened at London's Phoenix Theatre in June 2015.[3]


External links[edit]