A Critical Examination of Cultural Influences in the Film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’

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PART B: A critical examination of cultural influences in the film ‘Bend it like Beckham’

The film ‘Bend it like Beckham’ resonates with me strongly, as the conflict between Western and Indian culture is all too familiar. The main character ‘Jess Bhamra’ personifies this conflict in the most perfect and relatable way. Being a first generation Australian-born girl with Indian heritage, I can personally attest to having to simultaneously maintain two very different cultures that so often clash. ‘Bend it like Beckham’, is a film telling the story of an Indian girl whose only real goal in life, much to her parents’ dismay, is to play professional football. As Jess embarks on her trying journey of self-development in a cross-cultural space, she befriends fellow football enthusiast and player Jules who convinces Jess to join the local women’s football team. This friendship provides an interesting perspective on the Western culture, by offering the responder an insight into the struggles of Jules’ life, some of which are very same struggles present for Jess. The diasporic identities that are Jess’ parents are not ill intentioned, however slightly overbearing in their persistence of Jess’ obligations to her traditionally Sikh family. Thematic aspects of etic-emic distinction are raised in this film and include the role of women, homosexuality, stereotypes, cross-generational behaviours and integration by relational theory. All such themes are highlighted by the culture clash at play, as Jess attempts to grasp some sense of identity in an over-protected Indian space.

Women’s roles in both Western and Indian cultures are thoroughly scrutinized in the film. Jess expresses some discomfort in assuming the traditional role of a Sikh woman as stipulated by her parents. This is the main source of discontent throughout the film, as her ethnocentric parents truly, and somewhat naively, hold the belief that becoming a lawyer and marrying a man within their community is the key to happiness. As was noted in Article one of Part A, the Asian culture holds loyalty to family-kin relationships and obedience to elders in very high esteem. In this regard, Jess’ Western values of freedom of choice and personal fulfilment take a backseat. This is highlighted in a conversation that occurs with her Western teammates, where they ask her how she is able to ‘stand’ getting an ‘arranged marriage’ to which she replies, “It’s just culture” with a certain nonchalance. In doing so Jess is demonstrating that she is culture-bound, conditioned to the Indian cultural practiced of ‘arranged marriages’. The ultimate attribution error committed by Jess’ parents is not a result of ill-intentions, rather a protection mechanism against unknown western influences.

The role of women in the Western culture is not spared of social commentary in this film. It is interesting that Chadha, the Indian-born writer, director and producer of the film, chooses to examine the social constructs surrounding the implications of a women’s football team in England. As there is no professional English women’s football league, one can safely assume that football is not an appropriate past time for women. This idea is reaffirmed by Jules’ mother who, throughout the film, holds a very traditional English view on the role of women in society. She often expresses her disapproval with sentiments such as, “Nobody’s going to go out with a girl who’s bigger muscles than him!” Jess’ mother subscribes to the Indian tradition of a woman as a homemaker by saying, “What sort of family would want a daughter-in-law who could play football but not cook?” expressing much the same outlook as Jules’ mother, varied only by the respective women’s contexts. Such generalisations about women’s social placement is also seen in Article four of Part A. Adams et al. (2010) acknowledges the place of women in Spanish society as home-maker figures by hypothesising women to be more able in polychronic...
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