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Bend It Like Beckham keeps it light

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Director Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham follows on the heels of other British films like Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot as an export-ready comedy meant to appeal to the multiplex crowd.

Because it's marketed to a global market, Bend It (opening April 4), speaks the esperanto of feel-good in a cinematic vernacular as blunt as a head butt. The story is a familiar one of intergenerational family tensions, though in this case, it's intensified by the twin complicating factors of British soccer and a traditional Indian wedding.

Will the film's heroine stay true to her one passion -- to dominate a soccer ball like the famed British footballer David Beckham -- or will she capitulate to female responsibility and marry a Sikh with ravenous eyes? Only those recently liberated from lifelong exile on a TV-less desert island will wonder about the outcome of the war for 18-year-old Jessie's soul.

In Bend it Like Beckham, Jessie (Parminder K. Nagra) is a willful, soccer-mad girl living in a close-knit community of conservative Indian families in the West London suburb of Hounslow. With the encouragement of equally Sporty Spice gal-pal Jules (Keira Knightley), Jessie joins a local women's soccer team against the wishes of her family.

Chadha, who has addressed her combined Indian/British heritage before in the films Bhaji on the Beach and What's Cooking, was recently in Atlanta to discuss her latest film, which is poised to become another in the hit parade of British comedies centered on characters juggling split cultural identities.

Like Jessie, Chadha also comes from a middle-class suburban existence, but she says the experience was less suffocating than it appears to be in Bend It.

"I feel that people who don't come from a situation where they have two cultures or two languages can't quite comprehend it ... it's totally enriching," the director says.

Chadha wrote the Bend It script with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra, a friend with a similarly blended Indian/British background. Chadha says the film has some definite echoes of her own upbringing, from her mother's insistence that her daughter learn the feminine art of Indian cooking to her early rebellion at such narrow gender typecasting.

"Although I never played soccer, there's a lot of me in Jess. From a very young age I kind of refused to toe the line and be the perfect little Indian girl ... which then equaled perfect Indian wife in my mind."

Like Jessie, Chadha was a feisty sort who interrupted her mother's cooking lessons with cries of, "you don't realize this, Mum, but you are oppressed!

"What was really critical to me was I wanted to make a teen movie, but a really subversive teen movie where the girls weren't all pencil thin with perfect hair and perfect makeup ... but they all looked really powerful and really athletic with what they were doing. And they all were happy with their bodies."

That feminist message is also rooted in Chadha's personal experience.

"Just because of who I am, the sheer physical act of me making films is an extremely feminist act in a world where it's so hard to do that," she says.

Meanwhile, Chadha also "wanted to make a film that I knew would appeal to British multiplex audiences." As she wished, Bend It Like Beckham has become a sleeper hit in the U.K., and if the critical gush in America is any indication, it may be destined to do the same here.

felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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