Bend it Like Beckham is a film based in Britain. The main character is girl named, Jesminder Bhamra, but goes by the name of Jess to her friends. The name of the film comes from her love for David Beckham , who is world renown soccer star from England; the term ‘bend it,’ refers to his soccer moves. Jess’ identity plays a large role in this movie. Jess is of Indian decent, her religion being Sikh. Jess has a passion for soccer, which is called ‘football’ in England. Jess’ passion for football is more than just a hobby, she hopes to play professionally in America on a full scholarship someday. Jess will have to face hurdles with sexism, racism, and culture differences to get there. As if that wasn’t enough, she must gain the approval of her parents, which seems to be the biggest hurdle of all.
Jess’ parents have very strong ethics. Their religious identity plays a large role in their everyday lives. They follow the Sikh religion and Indian culture very closely. Although Jess respects her parents and their beliefs, she does not feel as strongly about her religion as her parents do. Jess’ parent’s want what they think is best for their daughter and that is an arranged marriage to an Indian man and for her to become a lawyer. Jess’ mother would also like her to spend more time learning how to cook traditional Indian meals, so that she can attract a nice Indian man. Jess’ parents come from an upper-class class structure and are in the process of planning a wedding for her sister, Pinky.
Throughout the film Jess’ is trying to balance her love for football and staying true to her culture for her parent’s sake. Intercultural communication is shown through Jess trying to balance her traditional Indian culture and the traditional culture of Britain. Jess continuously plays football with her male friends at the neighborhood park in her free time. Playing and having any sort of physical contact with males is against the traditional Indian culture. While playing football with her friends she is met by a girl named, Jules. Jules plays for a woman’s football league and after watching how great Jess is at the game, she asks Jess if she would be interested in trying out for the women’s football team. Jess is apprehensive about attending but decides to give it a try. She shows up to the tryouts met by, Joe, who is the coach for the women’s team. Jess makes the team and is not happy when she receives the uniform as it requires her to wear shorts. Jess’ culture requires her to dress modest and she has an unsightly burn on her leg that she is embarrassed to show, but after talking to her coach she gains the confidence she needs and wears the uniform. Now she is plagued with the hard part; how will she attend the games without her parents finding out? Jess decides to tell her parents she has a summer job. While playing football at the park with her friends her mother happens to walk by as her male friend is playfully picking her up. Her mother shouts and demands Jess go home immediately. Jess’ mother tells her father about the occurrence at the park. Jess’ father has a strong uncertainty avoidance about Jess playing football because he was faced with racism from English men when he used to play cricket. Her father feels that he is shielding her from the imminent prejudice that she would face from being Indian.
Jess’ best friend Tony is her biggest supporter of playing soccer. Tony is of Indian decent as well, and later admits that he is gay. Which Jess, says “but you’re Indian.” I felt like this was a bit contradicting of Jess to say because she herself has not followed the traditions of her culture. Jess is faced with being stereotyped by Jules’ mother throughout the movie. Upon meeting Jules’ mother for the first time, her mother asks “if Jess stands for Jasmine,” and says, ” I am sure you’re mom and dad are fixing you up with a handsome young doctor soon, and asks if she is a friend from school or work.” Arranged marriage is common in Jess’ culture, and her mother was surprised to find that Jess and Jules met while playing football, because her mother knows that playing football is not widely accepted by Jess’ culture.
In Jess’ religion having an arranged marriage is common, but you can also have a “love match,” where you marry someone of your choice. This is what her sister Pinky has done. Marriage is a huge event in Indian culture and involves the merging of the two families more than just the husband and wife. This is prominent when you see the gatherings of the two families. At one-point Jess is accused of being in a romantic relationship with Jules and is confronted about it at the family gathering. Upon Pinky’s fiancé’s parent’s hearing this, they decide to call off the wedding. Homosexuality is not accepted in the Sikh religion and Pinky’s fiancé’s family did not want to be affiliated with a lesbian. It was later found out to be a misunderstanding, and the wedding was later back on.
Jess has a color-blind approach towards her coach, Joe, and ends up having feelings for him. The feeling is mutual with Joe. This relationship, however, would never be socially acceptable in her culture. Traditionally Jess would end up marrying an Indian man. Jess thinks it’s too much to get her family to accept her playing football and having them accept a white man as a love interest, so she decides to end the relationship before it even begins.
Through out the movie Jess partakes in the steps of minority identity development. Stage one: Unexamined identity can be seen by Jess’ lack of interest in her religion. Although she does acknowledge it, she doesn’t necessarily agree with everything that goes along with it. She knows that playing soccer with men is not accepted by her culture but decides to go ahead and play anyways. She has a stronger desire to assimilate towards Britain’s traditional culture than her own.
Jess’ strong desire to assimilate towards Britain’s traditional culture moves her into stage 2, Conformity. Jess is accepted by her male friends and engages in daily football games at the park. She lies to her parents and continues to play behind there backs knowing the trouble it could cause their family if she were to be found out. It soon becomes a part of her daily life. She feels comfortable and confident in playing football, until she is faced with discrimination. Which leads her into stage 3, Resistance and Separation. Jess is playing in a tournament in Germany, when she is ‘flagged’ and thrown from the game. The flag was given because she was accused of a foul from repeatedly pushing her opponent. After being scolded by her coach, Joe, she tells Joe she shoved the girl because she was called a, “Paky.” Paky is a form of discrimination towards a person of Pakistani decent. Jess was stereotyped for being Indian. This makes Jess second guess her identity, then she arrives home from Germany to find her parents waiting for her at the airport. Between the discrimination and her parents, she decides it’s best to quit football and gets accepted into a University to become a lawyer. She puts her dreams of playing in America behind her.
The championship tournament coming up weighs heavy on Jess’ mind, but it falls on the same day as Pinky’s wedding. Jess father notices she is not able to enjoy Pink’s wedding, because of the championship, so he allows her to play in the second half of the game. Jess scores the winning goal and is seen by a talent scout and given a full scholarship to play football in America. Her dreams have finally come true, but without the acceptance of her parents she could never move abroad to America, especially without marrying a nice Indian man first.
This leads us to stage 4, Integration. Everything Jess has gone through gives her the sense of identity she has been looking for. Jess’ mother finds out that Jess snuck out of Pinky’s wedding and played in the championship game and is not happy. In the midst of being reprimanded by her mother, her father steps in and defends her saying that Jess was “brilliant.” Her father explains to her mother that if football is what makes Jess happy, then who are they to get in her way. Her father proclaims that if Jess isn’t happy, then how have they succeeded as parents? They understand the struggles Jess will have to face with racism, sexism, and prejudice in America, but decide to give her their blessing and let her follow her dreams.
I learned a lot about Indian culture in this film. Even though the film was made in 2002, I had no idea that arranged marriage was still happening. After finding out it was happening, I was more surprised to find out that, given the person’s culture and religion, you may also enter into a ‘love match’ relationship. The meaning of Sikh is disciple which correlates how important teaching the Sikh religion to younger generations is. I learned the importance of family in Indian culture and the importance of the joining between both families in a marriage. In today’s culture it is very common for American’s to get married and the families to not have a relationship at all.
My perception of the Indian culture changed when I saw that some of the Indian teenage girls dressed and looked more according to the British/English tradition than Indian and were still accepted into the culture. I though most Indian women had to dress modestly, or they would be rejected in their culture. I realized that the Indian population has found ways to integrate modern culture to their traditional culture. No matter where you come from in the world, everyone has the same wants. They want to be surrounded by friends and family, be able to follow their dreams and be accepted.
Bend it Like Beckham displays different types of verbal and nonverbal communication styles than in my family and community. Some of the nonverbal communications that differed from mine were, you are to bow with your hands together and say Namaste to your elders as a sign of respect and greeting; in my culture that would be equivalent to giving a hug or a handshake. Status was evident when Jess got into trouble when her mother saw her being physically picked up by her male friend. If my mom saw my friend picking me up she wouldn’t put much thought into it, and would view it as horse play. I feel like the paralinguistics between Jess and her family members were spoke at a faster rate with an accent, which made it hard to understand what some of the words were, particularly the names of the Indian dishes Jess’ mother wanted her to learn how to make. Jess’ family’s physical appearance on a daily basis showed that they are very conservative. Her mother wore a sari, and her father was always wearing a turban. Whereas my family would be more of a jeans and t shirt type of appearance daily. Some of the Verbal Communication would be there use of the word brilliant, which means great or good. Another would be the use of the word cow, which is used to describe an unliked female.
I really enjoyed watching Bend it Like Beckham and learning more about Indian and Sikh culture. I found it to be relatable to men for the sports and motivating for women who think they cannot accomplish a dream due to their sex, race, or religion. It shows how far a dream and perseverance can get you.