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"Bend It Like Beckham"

IF EVER there is a film that is positive, realistic and yet delightful, then it has to be Dream Production's latest venture directed by Gurinder Chadha (``Bhaji On The Beach," ``What's Cooking"). Light hearted, without taking away the considerable substance in terms of values, attitudes and the love for sport, the film just goes to prove that there are ways to be convincing and honest.

The story is simple, completely unpretentious and has a few lessons for both adults and teenagers alike on how to go about what you want out of life! Who wants to cook alu gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham, the famous football player? So believes 18-year old Jess, or Jeswinder (Parminder Nagra) coming from a conventional Sikh family living in England. Of course her parents want Jess to fit into the community, by getting her married to a nice Indian boy, cooking Punjabi dinners and raising a family. But that's not what Jess wants! Even if her sister Pinky (Archie Punjabi) does. Jess would much rather kick a ball around the local park with the guys, something she's good at. So good that she is spotted by Jules (Keira Knightly) who invites her to join the local women's football team. They are the same age and soon become good friends sharing the same dreams. What is more, the team really benefits from the talented twosome until Jess's parents simply put their foot down, with her mother wanting her to learn to make the perfect chapati. Even as she is banned from playing, Jess finds ways and means to go ahead and play with encouragement from the coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). While he does not want her to defy her parents (the Bhamras) he does want her to be firm about her football career. And his interest in Jess is not only because of her ability to play good football! Jules's mother Paula (Juliet Stevenson) wishes that Jules would be more interested in feminine things and find a boyfriend. Which Jules does, but that person is out of bounds. He is the coach. Joe that is.

Gurinder and Paul Mayeda Berges have written the story. The idea came about after the 1998 World Cup. Gurinder was amazed to find its appeal and that many actually went into a depression when England lost. She examined the wonders of the sport with an Indian girl who idolises David Beckham and an English girl who worships the U.S. women's soccer star, Mia Hamm, as the central characters. She wove the story around the desperation of the two girls to play football against all odds and prove that being sporty does not mean they are not feminine.

The title other than applauding Beckham's skill at the game is a metaphor for the fact that the girls may `bend the rules rather than break' them, to get what they want. The atmosphere in a Punjabi family is well captured - both in terms of the visuals (camera — Jong Lin) as well as in the host of characters that flood the screen. They are boisterous and completely in line with their true selves. The football scenes are riveting as well - excitingly choreographed and captured. Anupam Kher, who plays Mr. Bhamra, is a treat. His is a wonderful character. Strong but gentle, loving yet firm. Parminder Nagra is outstanding in her naturalness and unity with her character. So is Keira Knightly as Jules. Jonathan plays his role with a great amount of sensitivity. It's been a long time since such a charming romance has been so gently portrayed. Also doing a good job are Archie Punjabi, Juliet Stevenson and Shaheen Khan as Mrs. Bhamra. Truly something to see and enjoy!

CHITRA MAHESH

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