Bend it Like Beckham
 
 

Bend It Like Beckham is my most autobiographical film. People think that must mean I wanted to be a professional football player (or 'soccer' as you crazy Yanks insist on calling it!). The truth is I was never into soccer growing up—it's only now after making the film that I can bend a ball almost as well as I can cook aloo gobi. But like my protagonist Jess, I grew up in Southall, West London, in a Sikh Punjabi family and I always wanted more than was expected of an Indian girl. My Dad not only understood that, he encouraged it. When I was a stroppy teenager and refused to dress up like a Christmas tree in an Indian outfit for a family wedding, my Mum wrung her hands in despair but Dad laughed and let me wear my favourite sky blue three-piece polyester flared suit. When I wanted to leave home for university and study Third World Development and Economics, he agreed. When I wanted to be a filmmaker, he knew it would scare away prospective husbands working as pharmacists in Birmingham, but inside he loved the idea of his daughter documenting our community.

Fast Forward to the World Cup in 1998. My Japanese-American husband Paul and I go to our local pub in Camden and scream and cheer for the England team along with men, women, kids, black, white, Asian—the entire country has gone mad. Our star player David Beckham stands out because he's turned the idea of the traditional macho soccer player on its head. Little boys want to play like him, women (and lots of men!) want to snatch him away from his wife Posh Spice and take him home to their families, everyone agrees he's an amazing player and he looks gorgeous in a sarong. It hits me that I want to take this world and stick a young Indian girl right in the centre of it because it's the last thing anyone would expect of her (or me).

I decide then to make a film combining the English passion for football with the Indian passion for marriage. Beckham scores a magnificent goal and rips his shirt off (my oh my…). When I get my breath back it dawns on me that Beckham's uncanny ability to 'bend' the ball around a wall of players into the goal is a great metaphor for what young girls (and film directors) go through. You see your goal, you know where you want to go, but you've got to twist and turn and bend the rules to get there.

 

Financing films is always about arm-twisting. Writing the script was easy, the characters flowed out of me faster than any script I've ever written, but setting up the film was as stressful as an England v. Germany final. Everyone said soccer films don’t work, let alone girls' soccer, let alone an Indian girl playing soccer…ARE YOU NUTS?!!!

Three years later after lots of arm-twist
ing and bollocks-busting, I'm at Shepperton Studios on a set we've modeled on my Aunty's house directing my Mum and all of my Aunties in a big wedding scene. My Mum completely disregards the hierarchy of a film set and starts directing me, "INDI! (my nickname) tell the cameraman to face the camera this way, Guddi Aunty is not even in the shot…" Parminder Nagra, who has trained for ten weeks with a Brazilian soccer coach to play Jess, enters the set. My Mum and Aunties immediately ask her if she's married and begin trying to find her a suitable boy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers enters and I introduce my family. They all beam at him and ask what role he's playing. I explain that he's the football coach who Jess falls in love with. They all gasp in shock horror.

At the film's premiere in England I look up at a huge billboard in Leicester Square featuring my Mum standing in the middle of a wall of Aunties. Indian drummers work up the crowd dressed in Armani and Salwar Kameez to a frenzy and the Indianization of Leicester Square is complete. The film opens on 450 screens (my first film Bhaji on the Beach opened on 5!) and goes on to be the most successful British-financed, British-distributed film in the United Kingdom of all time. The Empire Strikes Back!

I travel from continent to continent watching the 2002 World Cup as the film opens in different countries. In each country there are people from different communities wildly cheering on their teams. The world of soccer, like the world of cinema, is truly international. My father passed away recently and every time I see his dedication at the end of the film I think about how happy he'd be that audiences in Korea and South Africa and New Zealand and Hong Kong are getting a kick out of a family very much like our own, with a father at the helm inspired by my Dad who encouraged me to bend all the rules and go for it.

©2003 Landmark Theatres