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Entertainment 'It was inspiring to see women reaching for their dreams' - Bend it Like Beckham 20 years on

08:10  17 april  2022
08:10  17 april  2022 Source:   leicestermercury.co.uk

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In 2002 Jesminder Bhamra from Hounslow became a friend and even an idol to many South Asian girls and women across the UK. Of course, she was not real but a fictional representation of the experience of many from the South Asian diaspora in the iconic film, Bend it Like Beckham.

Now 20 years on from its release, fans have shared the impact of the film, which starred Leicester actress Parminder Nagra as Jesminder, better known as Jess. To this day, the film remains one of the highest-grossing and most loved football films.

And while the plot followed Jess's love for football, it was the themes of race, immigration and identity, explored by director Gurinder Chadha, that continue to resonate with fans. For many, it was one of the first "real" representations of a British South Asian woman they had seen.

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That was certainly the case for sisters, Tazmin Mistry, from Evington in Leicester, and her sisters Tejal and Anisha. The 29-year-old said: "It was probably the first film I remember watching that showed Indian culture in that way."

Tejal, 25, said she was happy to see an Indian female lead in a film that achieved worldwide success. "She was a strong, independent woman who went on to pursue her dreams and didn't get married in the end - it didn't fit the standard," she said.

Anisha, who was 10-years-old when the film was released, added: "Diversity and inclusion is so important. And it's good to have female role models and representation in mainstream media, not just in Bollywood.

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"It helped people to understand our culture and how themes like family are important - and how some would be willing to give up their own dreams. But in the end, it was nice that she got the support from her family to follow her dream and smash it."

Another fan, Tasneem Ahmed said, 20 years on, she still relates to the main character and the struggles she faces. "I remember watching it for the first time and [Jess's character] went against all the stereotypes of a South Asian woman," she told LeicestershireLive.

"There was a girl who didn't want to do any of those things that she was expected to do and that really resonated with me at the time. I was a bit rebellious myself."

In the film, Jess decides to play football in secret, without the permission of her parents who would much rather she learn to cook and help prepare for her sister's wedding. Towards the end of the film, when she is finally given permission to play, she runs to tell her coach and love-interest, Joe, but she decides against kissing him, knowing her parents would object.

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Parminder Nagra starred alongside Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham, a film that continues to be well-loved in Leicester and beyond. © Sundance/WireImage Parminder Nagra starred alongside Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham, a film that continues to be well-loved in Leicester and beyond.

Tasneem added: "I'm in a relationship now with someone outside of my own cultural background. When I watch [the film] back now, I still really relate to it."

One fan said that although the film has been well-received in the South Asian community, in her experience, it has not drastically changed attitudes towards playing sports. Jayna Patel from Oadby was once a young football player herself.

The 29-year-old said "It felt good to be represented as a young girl interested in football whose parents were against the hobby. But it hasn't done much in the South Asian community in terms of encouraging children - both boys and girls - to play sport as [some people] still have a mindset of needing to be well-educated [as a priority].

Mahiza Daud, from Hamilton, said the film was "refreshing". "It validated our existence as brown girls and the duality we had to face with trying to be desi but also trying to fit into a British society." The 26-year-old added that although the film did not impact her life it made her "feel seen".

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Mohammed Seedat from Humberstone said Bend it Like Beckham made him "proud" of his city. The 38-year-old recalled watching the film for the first time with his family and the success that followed.

He said: "It was mind-blowing seeing an Asian from Leicester become an international star. It made me really proud to be from Leicester and it helped to break - and confirm - so many stereotypes people have about us."

Sonia Chudasama saw a role model in young Jess. The 28-year-old from Belgrave said: "The film provided a role model for ethnic minority women, The fact that football was seen as a male dominating sport, it was inspiring to see women reaching for their dreams despite the struggles."

Brandon Marbrook from Wigston was six-years-old when he first saw the film. Although he could not personally relate to Bend it Like Beckham like some of its fans could, it remains his favourite British film.

"I still maintain that it's my favourite British film because it represents some of my favourite things about Britain - celebrating diversity and different cultures, the comedy, the music and football," he said.

"It introduced me to women's football which I'm still a big supporter of and I regularly rave about the soundtrack because I think it's up there with the best around."

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