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Bend It Like Beckham – Viewing Guide



  • Like Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, with which Bend it Like Beckham has a lot in common, director Gurinder Chadha consciously fuses the conventions of Hollywood with Bollywood films. Beckham, for all of you soccer novices out there, alludes to David Beckham, the former British soccer superstar of Manchester United who, last time I checked, was playing for the Spanish team Real Madrid. Transposed into American popular culture, the film could be titled Hit It Like Sammy or Dunk It Like Shaq. Beckham has two "cameo" appearances at the beginning and the end of the film and hence, in more senses that one, frames the film itself.

Saris, Soccer, and Samosas

  • Similar to Monsoon Wedding (though located in Delhi), Beckham shows an Anglo-Indian culture (in London) in the throes of transition. Ancient rituals and traditions coexist, not always peacefully, with cell phones and television shows. Aloo Gobi and samosas share the (cinematic) table with hamburgers and Heineken, and Guru Nanak and Guru Beckham seem equally important icons of worship, depending. Locate some of the fault lines of the old and the new, of the East and the West, and see how the various generations deal with this, if you will, postcolonial dialogue.

Blurring the Boundaries of Gender

  • As a film blending and intermingling various cultural traditions, Beckham also challenges and complicates existent notions of femininity as they are traditionally defined in India and England (and perhaps the West, more generally). The "transgressive" behavior of Jess and Jules raises many an eyebrow, while Pinky is skillful at hiding the parts of her modern self behind a facade of traditionalism. At the same time, Jess's friend Tony turns out to be gay, yet volunteers to marry Jess so that she can play soccer in the US. Variously identified as straight or gay, and as either breaking or making expected gender roles, many of the film's lead players inhabit unstable identities. If Beckham is indeed a film about "girls with balls" (following the playful title of one of the film's reviews), it is also a film about "boys with balls," though on different levels. Locate the scenes that speak to traditional and transgressive expectations of gender, and ask yourselves why Chadha would link the theme of fluctuating identities with the theme of cultures in transition.

Fathers and Daughters

  • The fathers in Beckham come across as, ultimately, more understanding than the mothers of their daughters (and it may be worth noting that Chadha dedicated the film to her own dad). Jess's dad, after some soul searching and prolonged reflection, eventually puts aside his own experiences of racism in Kenya to let his daughter—over his wife's wishes—go to America. Similarly, Jules's father is all along supportive of his daughter's goals (in more senses than one), while her mother—like Jess's—has to work through lingering expectations of gender and success until she too is willing to let her go. While we don't know the reaction of Joe's father to his professional success (he becomes the coach to the newly-created professional division of the Hounslow Harriers), viewers are reminded that he carries festering psychological wounds as a result of conflict with his father. Identify the scenes that emphasize the interactions of fathers (and mothers) with their daughters. Why does the film portray the fathers as more understanding? What are we to make of the interactions between Mr. Bhamra and Joe, and especially the final scene? Why do they play cricket, and why does the camera move the way it does?

Audience and Style

  • Chadha has repeatedly noted that, with Beckham, she wanted to make a commercially successful film that appeals to a large, international audience. While the film skillfully blends cultural and generational conflict, Beckham seems, at least on one level, primarily geared toward a younger audience. Identify the themes and scenes that have made the film a teenage crowd pleaser and, equally important, see how the very form of the film—the way certain scenes are filmed, the kind of music chosen, the camera work and editing—suggest a younger audience as well.

Film Form and Film Content

  • As with every film worth its salt, the way it is put together often (at least in theory) reinforces its very themes: form and content are designed to develop a synergy of effect. To spot this kind of synergy is not always easy, because film tends to lull us often into passive viewing or simple entertainment. Film's very power of illusion makes, paradoxically, "invisible" what is visible for all of us to see: namely, that it is a highly stylized artifact, a collaborative project of mobilized sight and amplified sound, among many others. With that caveat in mind, rethink our conversations on camera work, lighting, music, and editing, and try to identify scenes in Beckham where this synergy of content and form (theme and technology) is particularly noticeable. Think, for example, of those moments when shots or camera movement emphasize—that is, render visually—social isolation or imprisonment. When does the film switch to slow motion, and how does music and camera work complement one another? These are some of the questions to keep in mind.

Additional Pointers and Screening Suggestions

  • Hollywood meets Bollywood Like Monsoon Wedding, Beckham fuses the conventions of Hollywood with Bollywood. Briefly research or recap some of the conventions of Bollywood and Hollywood feature films and see how Beckham merges those two genres. What might this cinematic hybrid, perhaps, want to say on the level of film form.
  • Symbolic Moments As we know from our discussion in class, films, like literature, often operate symbolically. If we think of film and print as two different forms of text, we could say that, while writing works with printed symbols (which readers nevertheless have to visualize in their minds), the film works with visual symbols, that is, with its own medium-specific "language." Pay attention to some of those visual symbols in Beckham and see what they are trying to "show."
  • Germany? All of Beckham takes place in England except a brief sequence in Hamburg, Germany, where the Hounslow Harriers take part in a tournament. Why would Chadha locate part of her film (midway) in another country? Couldn't the HH (which also happens to be the license plate for Hamburg: HH = Hansestadt Hamburg) also have played a tournament somewhere in England, Liverpool, say? Because Germany is hosting the upcoming soccer world championship—hardly. To show that the emerging team is internationally competitive—perhaps. However, what other reasons could account for such a relocation of the film's terrain? What precisely happens in Hamburg and why one could argue, can these developments only take place outside of England (though not necessarily in Germany)? Speculate and theorize, as Picard says to Data!

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Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
Editor, Weber - The Contemporary West
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