Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bend it Like Beckham


phoned up my favorite limo service this morning requesting the pink stretch Lincoln Town Car they keep for my outings and soon Miguel was pulling it into the driveway of Chateau Maine and I was off to the Ojai valley to Camp Sisterwood where I am to begin my new choreography assignment. I have been hired by the Feminist Arts Council Theatrical Showstoppers troupe (or FACTS), to stage the musical numbers for their new all female version of the Jack the Ripper story. The musical, entitled Bodice Ripper, takes the known facts of the summer of 1888 and suggests a Victorian lady was the responsible party and that the murders were a sort of performance art dedicated to drawing the attention of society to the unhappy lot of women. 

Miguel drove quite fast and we were at Sisterwood in no time. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that Miguel, as a male, was not allowed inside the confines of the camp and art institute and that I had to walk the last few hundred yards in my best Prada. I shouldered my Gucci dance bag, passed through the gate emblazoned with 'Just the FACTS, ma'am' and entered the compound where Vera Charles, who's playing the lead, met me and introduced me round. I am not yet sure who is who in the cast or the other artistic staff as they all seemed to have adopted a similar look - flannel shirts, crew cuts and a definite lack of foundation garments. I can see I have my work cut out for me to make these young ladies the epitome of Victorian erotica. 

On arriving home, I found Normy in the studio trying to complete Schubert's unfinished symphony. I decided to curl up with a film and decided that a story of feminine empowerment was very much needed. Therefore, I settled upon Bend It Like Beckham, the 2002 sleeper hit from Great Britain set in the burgeoning Indian middle class of suburban London, a world only beginning to be explored in film. 

The film focuses on the Bhamra family, Sikhs who have made it, through industry and thrift into Britain's middle class, complete with suburban tract home, expensive consumer tastes, and celebrity obsessions. Father (Anupam Kher) and mother (Shaheen Khan) have two daughters for whom they want what every Punjabi parent wants, a good marriage to a nice Indian boy, and the ability to cook his traditional meals and raise his children. This is a society where the disposition of offspring is a serious matter and marriages are arranged and called off on the basis of dowries and family honor. Older daughter Pinky (Archie Panjabi), a traditional young woman, is hell bent on getting married and having the blow out wedding of her dreams. Her younger sister Jess (Parminder Nagra), is a tomboy with a real talent for football and dreams of emulating her idol, David Beckham. Jess is spotted as she plays in the park with the neighborhood boys by Juliette (Keira Knightley) who plays with the local girls semi-pro team. She arranges a try-out for her much loved coach (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Jess is on her way. Trouble is, her parents do not think this is at all the way a proper young lady should behave, so Jess begins to play in secret. This leads to the usual duplicity, lies found out, family confrontations, culture clashes, and Sikh weddings before all ends happily and everyone attains his or her dream. 

This feel good comedy, written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, relies on the time tested formula for such films that's been around in Britain since the days of the Ealing Studios. It brings to mind such classics as Genevieve and recent entries in the genre such as The Full Monty or Saving Grace. Fifteen minutes into the film, you know where it's going and where it will end up. This would lead to an exercise in boredom were it not, like most of these films expertly cast with super performers. The central cast all create well rounded three dimensional characters. Our heroes are allowed to be mean and nasty at times (they are, after all adolescent girls). Our villains are revealed to be decent, caring people. Even the comic relief (especially Juliet Stevenson as Juliette's shallow mother) are given moments of real compassion. Watching these talents inhabit this world gives the film a real zip and it speeds by as it touches all of the usual clichés. 

The other thing that gives the film appeal is the Indian cultural background. Director Chadha obviously loves her community, but isn't afraid to poke fun at their foibles. There are all sorts of telling, wonderful moments. Father putting up, and then taking down lights of celebration. A whole row of Indian matrons in sari's checking their cell phones. A young Indian man wrestling with his sexuality, torn between filial duty and what he knows is right. It's these little things that stay in the mind, long after the paint by numbers plot of American talent scouts and our heroine needing to be in two places at the same time has spun itself out. 

It's a great film for young people with its message of stay true to yourself and you can be anything you want to be and its notions of the importance of family, heritage and culture. I heartily recommend it. 

Overdressed young ladies. Pick up football. Sports posters. Lesbian accusations. Daal cooking. Shoe stealing. German nightclub. First kiss approach. Wedding dances. Heathrow airport.

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