The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

Real women don’t break rules, they bend them!
Vimla Patil

Gurinder Chadha
Gurinder Chadha

A film distribution company, idream, which came into the limelight recently for Revathy’s directorial venture Mitr — My Friend, is in the news again. Promoting one more dream of women, it will release Gurinder Chadha’s new film Bend It Like Beckham in India this summer. Once more, the film focuses on Chadha’s favourite subject: The life on British Asians in England. The new film tells the story of an 18-year-old Sikh girl living in Britain, Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) and her fight to get into a professional league of women football players, while her parents want her to find a nice guy and settle down to marriage and home-making. The title is inspired by a football phrase used in connection with star player David Beckham, who is known to turn a ball past a group of players accurately into the net to make a goal. David Beckham himself makes a guest appearance in the film, which shows the dexterity of girls playing the so-called masculine game.

For Chadha, who sees her own life reflected in characters like Jess Bhamra, this is a third success at filmmaking. Her first, Bhaji On The Beach, was a second-generation British Asian film and was aimed at breaking Asian women stereotypes in the West. It became internationally successful. Her second effort was What’s Cooking. Now, with her third film about to be released, Gurinder claims that Bend It Like Beckham touches the hearts of third generation British Asian women whose dreams and aspirations are quite different from those before them. This film is made with a totally British crew and cannot be termed an Asian film to begin with. The film is specific to West London near Heathrow Airport, where thousands of Asians have lived for decades. Bend It Like Beckham is a big budget film, as compared to Bhaji On The Beach. It is produced by British Screen Film Council and a German film production company. As opposed to the five prints of the former film, this one will start with 500 prints when it opens in the UK and in India in June, to coincide with the World Cup 2002. "The film is a brazen expression of girl power", says Gurinder, "Football is just the facade to showcase the liberation of women from a Barbie Doll existence. Women are real today. They need not be rebels and break the rules of society. They can achieve anything by just bending them instead!"


Gurinder Chadha could well be an example of a British-Asian woman who has bent rules to achieve her own success. Her family came to settle in Britain from East Africa in the seventies. Daughter of a small-time Indian grocery shop-keeper, she experienced, at first hand, the trauma and humiliation which Asians go through in Britain, when they don’t have money or status. During her growing years, Chadha also observed the inhumanly trivial lives which women of the Punjabi community settled in Britain — especially in cities like Leicester where one-third of the population is Asian. Through the older generation — like Gurinder Chadha’s father — which opened grocery shops or stationery corners and joined the huge lower middle class of the British population, she noticed how the racist Whites treated them. "My father was made to wait for hours for service in a bank because his depositing capacity was small. The early Asian settlers in Britain, like my parents, had little education and a huge complex about living in an alien society. The Punjabis especially stood together in their isolation and developed their own lifestyle of bhangra and family gatherings over tea and bhajias. They joined their compatriots in Southall for nostalgia meals or shopping and still felt lost between their Indo-African heritage and the strident call of the vibrant British culture they came to experience. I felt a part of this confusion; yet my generation thought differently and we were rebellious and unwilling to accept our second class status."

Gurinder is a second generation Asian — a woman who knows no other country as her home other than Britain. She is now married to Paul Mayeda Berges, a Japanese American. Yet, like other women of her generation, she too suffered the confusions and lack of identity, which surround the lives of Asian British women. "We are taught Asian values but are expected to make good in European society," she says, "This dichotomy of life troubled me greatly and found expression in my work as a media person and journalist."

Chadha made several documentary films but really hit the headlines when she made Bhaji On The Beach for the BBC in the early nineties. The film was shown widely in Britain and in the US to audiences who identified with Asian problems and empathised with them. "I presented these problems through the characters of several Asian women of different ages, who make bhajias (a typical Indian snack) and go for a picnic on a beach," she recalls, "During their day-long conversations and the events which affect them, their problems were discussed and graphically put before the viewers of the film. I remember that when the film was commissioned, I got a million pounds sterling. Itook it to the bank — the same bank where my father waited hours. The service was instant, though we were still Asians and poor!"

Bhaji On The Beach created a minor stir in Britain in the mid-nineties. It did not reach the shores of India at all. The film’s theme and treatment were so alien to Indians that it could not make a deep impact on those few Indians who saw it in Britain. Besides, women’s problems, viewers felt, are the same the world over, with only different manifestations. Chadha did not make any major films after Bhaji though that film earned her a minor celebrity status.

Then, media reports in 1997 said that Sunny Deol, himself a Punjabi with a wife living in Britain, met Chadha in the UK, after seeing Bhaji on the video. He approached her to make a totally commercial Hindi masala film in London starring the Deol brothers — Sunny and Bobby with Karisma Kapoor. "It did not work out," says Gurinder, "But I will soon make a film Bollywood style. I want to project my vision of cinema through a film which have actors from India, America and Britain!"

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