Bend It Like Beckham at
first glance is a lighthearted film about two young women who bond over their
love of soccer. However, the use of comedy thinly veils the important issues
about different cultures existing together, and the difficulties faced by
minority cultures in the western world.
The film follows Jess,
the daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants, now living in London. The majority of
the tension is between Jess and her traditional Sikh family, and is centered
around Jess’s desire to play soccer. Being first generation, Jess exhibits a
melding of the two cultures, Indian and British, and thus doesn’t truly belong
to either group. Traditional Indian clothing, thoughts, and practices are
referenced throughout the interactions between Jess and her family.
mainstream Indian culture as patriarchal, “meaning male dominated, and often
denigrates the rights or roles of women” (Dahlman, 2015). In patriarchal
societies, women are often viewed as having traditional roles, and being
subservient in nature. This can be seen in the conflict of Jess playing soccer,
when Jess’s mother, Mrs. Bharma exclaims, “She shouldn’t be running around with
all these men showing her bare legs…! She’s bringing shame on the family”
(Chadha, 2007). The playing of soccer for females is seen as taboo due to the
perceived immodesty of the uniforms, interactions with the opposite sex, and
demonstration of athleticism; all of which are associated with masculinity.
Instead of playing soccer, Jess faces constant familial pressures and reminders
that she should be focusing on homemaking to make her more appealing to
potential Sikh suitors. In several scenes, Mrs. Bharma laments Jess’s lack of
interest in learning how to cook traditional Indian food or her interest in
marriage. Her frustration is evident when she tells Jess, “I was married at
your age! You don’t even want to learn to cook dhal!” (Chadha, 2007). This
statement exemplifies the traditional value placed on marriage, gender roles,
as well as striving to preserve traditional cultural foods.
Acculturation by Jess
and her family is also evident in several scenes. Jess rebels against
traditional Indian culture just by defying gender-norms and playing soccer.
Furthermore, her adamancy in her desire to play soccer, and defying of her
parents to do so, also demonstrates that Jess is being affected by the English
cultural values of gender equality. The eventual acceptance by Mr. and Mrs.
Bharma of Jess playing soccer also shows that acculturation is affecting them,
as it was so abhorrent to them in terms of traditional Indian values. The
turning from patriarchal society can be further exemplified when Jess pleads to
play soccer, and Mr. Bharma states, “Two daughters made happy in one day-what
more can a father ask for?” (Chadha, 2007). In patriarchal society, men
consider the happiness of women trivial. Tony, the Indian best friend of Jess,
also demonstrates acculturation by expressing he is gay, something that is
shocking even to Jess, who claims he cannot be gay because he is Indian. In
Jess’s disbelief, we also see the dichotomy the two cultures play in her melded
In conclusion, Bend It
Like Beckham, utilizes comedy and soccer to explore the difficulties
experienced by acculturation of minorities into a new society. There are
numerous examples in the film of the anxiety of losing ones’ original sense of
identity and culture, mainly depicted by Jess’s parents stubbornly attempt to
maintain and preserve these traditions. Acculturation can also be studied, as
Jess challenges her family’s convictions, and struggles herself with balancing
of two such different societal pressures and cultural norms.