Feb 26, 2009

An Uncomfortable Admission

Watching the DVD version of Bend It Like Beckham was two hours well spent. It's not often one sees the pursuit of female sports portrayed with such positive energy and sympathetic camera angles.

*SPOILER ALERT: the following reveals the nature of this film's ending, and discusses the resolution of a primary source of tension/conflict.*

I knew, because of comments other people had made to me, that this movie had a happy ending. And yet I couldn't help feeling a sense of forboding as it unfolded.

One of the main characters, played by Parminda Nagra, is from an immigrant Sikh family - which expects her to behave in a traditional manner at odds with that of modern day Britain. This young woman's desire to become a professional soccer player receives little support from her family. In order to play at all, she must constantly deceive them.

While everything works out well in the end - due, primarily, to her father's realization that remaining inflexible will shatter his daughter's dreams and leave her miserable - in real life, these conflicts sometimes turn ugly. It isn't unheard of for young women such as this to be coerced into arranged marriages, assaulted by their elders and brothers, and even murdered because their non-traditional choices are viewed as bringing shame upon their families.

From a certain perspective, this film provides a template for families facing such challenges. Its message is that respect on the part of the young, compromise on the part of the elders, and old-fashioned love and affection can all help to preserve the family unit rather than rupturing it. (A tragic account of a real-life family destroyed by its inability to navigate similarly tricky waters appears here.)

But here's another thought, one I'm still turning over in my mind: watching this film made me glad I wasn't born into an immigrant family from India. As a photographer, I'm attracted to the vibrant colours of the textiles, footwear, and jewellery on display in Toronto's Little India. I've often thought that Indian children - with their dark eyes - are among the world's most beautiful. And if I had to choose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life - it would be East Indian, no question about it. In other words, my associations with East Indian culture have always been hugely positive.

But while watching this fictional young woman struggle to accommodate the suffocating expectations placed on her by a family rooted in another time and place, it became clear to me that I wouldn't ever want to be a young woman in that culture - any more than I'd want to be one in a hyper-traditional Italian family.

This is a new idea for me. One I didn't anticipate coming away with when I sat down to watch this film.

[full movie info]