When asked whether she was a soccer fan before making “Bend it Like Beckham,” the story of Jess, an Indian girl living in England whose love of the game clashes with her parents’ insistence that she follow a traditional, modest path to marriage, writer-director Gurinder Chadha replied in a recent Dallas interview, “Not before I made the film, no. What happened was, I attended the women’s World Cup, at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, in 1999, and saw Europe play China, and I was just absolutely knocked out, because–number one–I’d never seen professional women play soccer (that was just a big treat), but in addition there were 90,000 people in the stadium, and I was like, ‘Wow! All these people are here, watching these gals play.’ I was just shocked. And I thought, this is such a great celebration of girls playing sport that I’d love to capture this in a movie. At the same time, in England soccer is very much a man’s world. And I just thought, wouldn’t it be great to take this very important national sport–soccer–and put an Indian girl right in the middle of it?” That juxtaposition led her to add a plot thread about planning for the elaborate wedding of the heroine’s older sister–because, as she explained, “if soccer is the English passion, then the overwhelming Indian passion is weddings.”
Chadha began her career as a print journalist, gradually branching out into film documentaries before moving into fiction movies. “I wanted to make a film about being British and Indian at the same time,” she said. “Beckham” represents a continuation of that project. “The whole film is kind of autobiographical,” she continued. “The father is very much based on my dad, and the mom is a slightly exaggerated version of my mother. It rues my mom to this day that even though I can make films and go around the world, I still can’t make perfect Indian food. So I’m not a complete woman in her eyes.”
One of the most daunting aspects of the picture was securing David Beckham’s consent to use his name and image in the film. Beckham, an enormous soccer star in Britain (rather like the sport’s answer to Michael Jordan), is Jess’s idol, and posters of him plaster the walls of her room. (He’s also married to Posh Spice, which makes him the tabloids’ dream.) But luck intervened. “When we approached him it was just after the last World Cup–not this one but the one before, where England really ignominiously got booted out early on, because David Beckham kicked an Argentinian player and got red-carded, and so England was out, he was out. Everyone hated him, and it was all over. Everyone was in mourning in England. He got the brunt of it–everyone blamed him for England losing. There were effigies of him everywhere. So when we came along with this movie where he’s an idol to this girl, he was like, ‘Well, at least someone likes me. Sure.'” Now, Chadha said, it would be much harder to get his permission.
“Bend It Like Beckham” has proven an enormous crowd-pleaser in its foreign engagements, taking in some $50,000,000 even before its U.S. premiere. Chadha thinks that’s because while it has lots of humor, it’s serious underneath–something that American viewers have recognized in early screenings, much to her satisfaction. “Although the film appears quite flippant and comedic, actually it does touch on some quite deeper issues,” she said. “And I think these audiences weren’t just going to let me get away with just treating it like a comedy.”