Bend it Like Beckham (Chadha, 2002) engages with the British national passion of football and the British popular cultural icon of David Beckham in order to subvert the expectations of the South Asian diaspora in Britain. The second-generation British Asian nucleus within the film epitomizes ‘the hybrid nature of contemporary British national identity, delighting in the incongruences and complexities of multiculturalism’ (Geraghty, 2006:164). Gilroy (2005) postulates the concept of convivial multi-culture, which concerns multiculturalism within urban youth culture and an understanding and accepting of difference. It pertains to an embracing of the potential and the possibility of a British identity, which emerges from everyday contact. The concepts of plurality, diversity and difference are included within the framework of British identity, but there is also the recognition of the possibility of the conflicts and tensions that arise between the clash of cultures.
The complexities of life lived with the dual cultural influences are embodied within the character of Jess. Her name functions as a semiotic signifier of her self, since she condenses her name from the traditional Indian name of Jesminder to the more British abbreviation of Jess. Her name thus reflects her hybridized nationality. Her family retains and represents the traditions and customs of the Indian culture, which contains parallels to the elder generation in Bhaji on the Beach.
In terms of the Asian family unit, her mother remains the oppositional power to her demands, refusing to accept her passion for the British sporting tradition of football. Her desire to become a footballer is posited as a threat to femininity and a resisting of the traditional roles afforded to women within the oppressive patriarchal community, and marks the cultural difference between the two generations. She does not conform to the patriarchal societal demands of the diasporic South Asian culture. Jess utilizes the line, which has become the tag line of the film for marketing purposes, ‘Who wants to cook Aloo Gobi, when you can bend a ball like Beckham?’. This line hence expresses her desire to embrace the British culture, but it also highlights at the same time the difficulties of embodying a hybrid identity and belonging to two cultures. These are the two polarities that the hyphenated British Asian must negotiate in order to satisfy her hybrid cultural identity.
The elder generation provides an alterity to the British Asian identity, since they struggle to comprehend the Western and British identity ingested within the second-generation. This is portrayed by means of the repetition of plane shots hovering above the British Asian household. The plane connects the South Asian diaspora in the ethnic quarter of Southall with the concept of displacement and functions as a means of looking back and acknowledging immigration. The first generation characters embody the nostalgic perception of traditional Indian cultures, which is highlighted through their use of language. They articulate themselves with an accented form of English, which ‘reveals the foreign-ness of language in first generation migrants, whose linguistic mastery of the foreign language does not equip them to negotiate the untranslatable component of cultural knowledge’ (Roy, 2006:6). Due to their difficulty in mastering and comprehending the British cultural identity, the first generation infuse their English dialogue with the Punjab language in a nostalgic manner, which is also reflected in their traditions and values.
The spaces of the football ground and the park function as interstitial spaces for the British Asian character of Jess. It is a space that transcends race, class and sexuality, allowing a plurality of identities. It is therefore a hybrid space where the Asian presence and the English presence are combined and accepted. Chadha utilizes the national sport of football in order to ‘construct new ethnicities, writing difference into the British nation’ (Roy, 2006:65). Roy further suggests that ‘the football ground is the third space – neither British nor Indian – where Jess’s hyphenated subjectivity is truly made to belong’ (Roy, 2006:64). However, football tends to pigeonhole identity in terms of representing countries and their national identities. For example, Jess is afforded the opportunity to represent her country, England, as they travel to Hamburg to play Germany. The English team is constructed of a plethora of identities, whether it may be white, black or Asian, reinforcing the ideology of a multicultural Britain and England that has embraced and accepted the cultural differences within British society.
The third space of the park is an in-between space that allows both gender and cultural understanding. It is within the park that Jess’ British Asian male friend Tony confides his homosexuality to her, which presents a queering of the diaspora. The concept of diaspora can be ‘queer’ by virtue of its otherness and difference to the host nation, since anything that differs from the norm can be considered ‘queer’. The presentation of a ‘queer diaspora’, through the character of Tony, refers explicitly to questions of sexuality and a multiplicity of identity positionings within the ‘diasporic’ identity, since the body is the site of performing identity. The queering of the British Asian diasporic within the figure of Tony enhances his dyadism and presents a double marginalization of the British Asian male body.