SUBJECTS — Sports/Soccer (Football); World/England;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Parenting; Romantic Relationships;


AGE: 13+; MPAA rated PG-13 for language and sexual content;

Comedy; 2003; 112 minutes; Color. Available from

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This story focuses on two English girls who want to play football (soccer) professionally. Jesminder (Jess) is from an Indian Sikh family that has immigrated to England. Julie is from a traditional English family. Each suffers from the prejudices of her parents. Jess’ parents believe that playing football and displaying her legs to the world are not proper for a traditional Sikh girl. They forbid her to play. Julie’s friendship with Jess, her interest in playing football, and her disinterest in things feminine lead her mother to fear that Julie is a lesbian. It all comes to a head at Jess’ sister’s version of the “Big Fat Sikh Wedding.”


Selected Awards: 2002 British Comedy Awards: Best Comedy Film; 2002 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Writers Guild of America WGA Award Nominations: Best Original Screenplay.

Featured Actors: Parminder Nagra as Jesminder (“Jess”); Keira Knightley as Juliette (“Julie”); Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe; Anupam Kher as Mr. Bhamra; Archie Panjabi as Pinky Bhamra; Shaznay Lewis as Mel; Frank Harper as Alan Paxton; Juliet Stevenson as Paula Paxton; Shaheen Khan as Mrs. Bhamra; and Ameet Chana as Tony.

Director: Gurinder Chadha.


This movie shows: (1) girls being serious about sports, in this case, soccer, called football everywhere but in the U.S.A.; (2) a child of immigrant parents in Britain breaking out of traditional Sikh life-styles; and (3) parents adapting to the unexpected paths their children take. A core message is that “in the modern world children have to be allowed to forge their own futures. … [W]hile we need to be reasonably understanding of parents and elderly folk who cling to the old ways, we don’t need to make excuses for their intolerance.” Review of the Movie by Stephanie Zacharek in


MODERATE. Jesminder and Pinky, her sister, lie to their parents: Jess to play football and Pinky to make love with her fiancé. The viewer will want to root for Jess because, until the end of the film, her parents won’t allow her to play football, and playing football is Jess’ dream. (Pinky’s lie is not a major issue in the film and is neither endorsed nor criticized.) There are two ways to handle the deception issue. The first, and probably the best, is to ignore it. Jess’ parents are being unreasonable, and Jess is uncomfortable with the lie, which in the end, doesn’t work. Eventually, Jess and her parents come to an understanding.

In a good-natured way, the movie points out some of the foibles of the Sikh community in Britain. There is also a good amount of profanity and sexually related dialog, much of it in British slang. There is at least one obscene gesture. The car in which Pinky and her boyfriend are making love is briefly shown rocking back and forth.


Before the movie, tell your child that the name of the film refers to the fact that early in his career, soccer superstar David Beckham appeared to be able to kick the ball so that it swerved in the air and out of the reach of defending goalkeepers. Go over some of the British slang used in the movie. See Building Vocabulary.

After watching the film, tell your child that if you ever act like Jess’ or Julie’s parents, he or she needs to tell you, and the family will sit down and talk about it. No promises, but you’ll talk. What your child should not do is lie to you.


  • Before the movie, tell kids that the title refers to football superstar David Beckham and his ability to make a goal from free-kicks. It looked like he could make the ball swerve in the air, its path “bending” out of the reach of a defending goalkeeper. At the beginning of the movie, Jess is dreaming about “bending it like Beckham.”
  • The Sikh religion is the 9th largest religion in the world, with 29 million adherents. It is concentrated in the Indian province of Punjab, but adherents live all over the world. Sikh craftsmen were brought to East Africa by the British in the early twentieth century to build the Uganda-Kenya railway. Some stayed, and Sikh communities were established in Uganda. In 1972 the erratic dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of all East Asians. Britain offered political asylum, and many Indians, including Sikhs, settled in England. Most likely, this is how Jess and her family came to England.
  • Guru Nanak Dev Ji was one of the founders of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh gurus (enlightened leaders) whose teachings define the religion.
  • The Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) sought to establish a soccer league for the United States. It played three seasons, 2001, 2002 and 2003. It was the first league of full-time professional women soccer players in the world. The WUSA lost its financial backing after the 2003 season and suspended operations.
  • Julie’s mother says, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain.” It is a way of saying that if a person can’t get their own way they must adjust to the inevitable or that if someone won’t do this thing for me, I’ll do it for myself. “The legend goes that when the founder of Islam was asked to give proofs of his teaching, he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not comply, Mohammed raised his hands toward heaven and said, ‘God is merciful. Had it obeyed my words, it would have fallen on us to our destruction. I will, therefore, go to the mountain and thank God that he has had mercy on a stiff-necked generation.'” Sources: The Phrase Finder and Bartleby’s Quotations.
  • One way to look at the film is that Jess was in the process of resolving this issue. The initial lie allowed her to determine whether she really had a future as a football player. If she didn’t, she would have stopped and gone to school to be a lawyer like her parents wanted her to. She would not have had to hurt their feelings and cause all the upset because the lie would be short-lived and wouldn’t have been an issue. However, when the possibility of playing football in college and professionally became real, she forced the issue by telling her parents what she had done and demanding to be able to play.


Go over the following English terms. Most are slang. These will help kids understand the movie.

football = soccer;

bollocks = rubbish, nonsense, drivel; e.g.”That film was bollocks.” This is a slightly obscene term originally referring to the testicles of an ox;

bunked off = To shirk your duties. Adolescents use it to refer to avoiding lessons at school;

cow = a contemptible woman, a “bitch.” This is a derogatory term but it can also be used as an affectionate aside, as in “silly cow”;

to fancy = to like, as in a girl likes a boy;

gutted = not happy because of an event that has occurred that didn’t go your way;

kit = clothing; uniform, sports equipment;

over the moon = very happy, extremely happy; e.g., “I’m over the moon about that”;

Paki = an insulting term for a person of Indian descent;

pissed = drunk;

right = very (it is used as an intensive, e.g.”A right sob story” means “a very sad story”;

to sack = to fire from a job;

to shag = to copulate or have sex with;

slag = woman of loose morals;

strop = a bad mood, a fit of fury, e.g. “I don’t want you to get into a strop with me”;

stroppy = bad-tempered, argumentative;

a stuffing = a beating;

tatty = junkie, tattered;

wanker = a masturbator, or a contemptible person, or an idiot, an incompetent person.


Hindi Terms used in the movie:

goreh = white people;

dhania = coriander seeds;

achar = Indian pickle;

punjabi = most popularly spoken language in Punjab province in India;

dal = all varieties of dried beans, split peas, and lentils used in Indian cooking;

chapatti = flat pancake-like bread cooked on a griddle;

Aloo gobi = an Indian curry; aloo means potato and gobi means cauliflower;

choli = a midriff-baring blouse worn in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and other countries where the sari is worn. The choli is cut to fit tightly to the body and has short sleeves with a low neck. The choli is usually cropped, allowing exposure of the navel; the cropped design is particularly well-suited for wear in the sultry South Asian summers. Cut-out backs and front-opening buttons are some of the features of contemporary designs;

Saris = traditional dress for Indian women consisting of a long piece of cloth, usually brightly colored, wrapped around the body, the shoulder or the head.


1. Click here for Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film

2. Describe two things that serve as contrasting symbols in this movie. Here’s a hint: It has to do with something on walls.

Suggested Response:

Jess’ parents spoke to a painting of a Sikh religious leader that they had put on a living room wall. Jess spoke to a poster of Beckham on her bedroom wall. This is a symbol of the difference in their worlds.

3. Why is it so much harder for women’s sports to receive the support and funding given to men’s sports in a society in which women are supposed to be treated the same as men?

Suggested Response:

We don’t know the right answer to this question, but it’s great for discussion. Some possible reasons are: there is a long tradition of men’s sports (in ancient Greece and Rome, only men participated in sports, and this custom came to the modern world through them); men are physically stronger in the traditional men’s sports, and society still suffers from sexism.

4. Does this movie perpetuate stereotypes?

Suggested Response:

There is no one correct answer to this question. We think it challenges stereotypes. Jess and Julie play soccer really well. Jess is also quite feminine. While Julie’s mother accuses her of not being interested in things feminine (remember the scene in the store), Julie gets into a knockout dress for the party in Germany. Pinky is a stereotypical girl interested in getting married and having children. Both mothers are stereotypes but this is a comedy and you need straight-people for comedies.

5. The director of this movie, Gurinder Chada stated that she tried to show the points of view of each of the characters. Was she successful?

Suggested Response:

To a great extent she was. We understand the parents’ position, as well as that of the girls.

6. Homosexuality (or the fear of it) is a theme in this movie. Give some examples.

Suggested Response:

There are two obvious examples. Julie’s mother is petrified that her tomboy daughter is a lesbian. Tony is a homosexual who is afraid to come out of the closet because homosexuality is not tolerated in the Indian community.



1. Where do you draw the line between living up to your parents’ expectations and living your own life? What does this movie have to say about it?

Suggested Response:

This is different for everyone and it depends on how reasonable the parents’ expectations are. The point of this movie is that you can’t let what your parents want to keep you from pursuing your own dream.

2. In this movie, Julie and Joe were encouraging Jess to resist her parents’ efforts to stop her from playing football. Were they being good friends or were they interfering in her life for their own interests?

Suggested Response:

They did have their own interests but friends encourage each other to live the life they want to live. But whenever your friends give you advice, look to their self-interest and then evaluate what is best for you. Also, in this film, Julie and Joe were the main people helping Jess to assimilate into British culture.

3. Remember the three Indian girls sitting on the bench that Jess referred to as “slags.” Why did the filmmakers include this scene?

Suggested Response:

The purpose was to contrast Jess’ adaptation to English life in which she wanted to play football with the adaptation where girls become cheap looking and sleep with just about anyone.


4. As a parent, when your children are 15 years of age or older and start trying to make their own decisions, where will you draw the line between telling your children what kind of life to lead and allowing them to make their own decisions?

Suggested Response:

So long as children are not hurting themselves or others, parents have to let them go their own way. Parents should encourage children whenever they try to do something that contributes to society or is good for them. Certainly, parents can let their preferences be known, but at this age, parents lead best by example.

5. The Bhamras had, as the mother put it “two deceitful daughters.” One secretly had made love to her boyfriend and the other secretly played football. Which of these deceits were worse in the minds of the parents? Why?

Suggested Response:

In the minds of Jess and Pinky’s parents, Jess’ deceit in playing football and showing her legs to the world was much worse than Pinky’s deceit about sex. This was because Pinky’s deceit was something that was not subversive to the parents’ way of life, while a girl playing football and showing her legs undermined their sense of what a traditional Sikh girl would do. In fact, the parents knew all along what Pinky was doing and did nothing to stop it.

6. What does this movie tell us about parenting?

Suggested Response:

It tells us several things. First, you can make lots of mistakes (all parents will), but if your basic attitude toward your child is loving and nurturing, most of these mistakes can be corrected without great harm. Second, parents must let their child be his or her own person. Third, children will lie to their parents and can still love and care for their parents, and also respect them. Fourth, when parents bring a child into a culture that is different from their own (like Jess’ parents) or the culture changes (girls didn’t play football in leagues when Julie’s mother was growing up), parents have to understand that their child is going to adapt to that new culture.


7. Do you agree that their different backgrounds should not be a deterrent to Joe and Jess having a romantic relationship?

Suggested Response:

A long-lasting romantic relationship requires more than a physical attraction. Couples that last a long time find that they share basic values. In melting pot cultures such as the U.S. and Great Britain, ethnic background usually has a minor effect on most people’s values. Each couple must assess their own situation. The question for each couple, whether they are of the same ethnic background or not, is whether the values that they share plus their love for each other are enough to bridge the differences in their values.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. Was Jess being disrespectful to her parents?

Suggested Response:

No, it was her parents who were being disrespectful to her. They didn’t look at who she was, they only saw who they wanted her to be.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

2. Jess’ parents made mistakes in their attempts to parent their children, but they also had a real strength. What was the strength? What was their mistake and why didn’t it do real damage to Jess?

Suggested Response:

The strength was their basic and strong love for Jess. The problem was that they didn’t look at who Jess had become. They saw her as they wanted her to be. This caused Jess to deceive them but didn’t do her any real damage because, before it was too late, they saw what was important to their daughter and changed their position. Had they not done this, Jess would have had to choose between her relationship with her parents and her dream to be a football player. That would have really damaged their relationship.


  • Write a research paper about the history of women in sports in the U.S.;
  • Write a research paper about the Indian Diaspora, it’s history and it’s present condition;
  • Write an alternate ending for the film assuming that Jess’ parents would not allow her to play football.

See also Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


Tangerine by Edward Bloor, Harcourt, Brace, 1997 (Twelve-year-old Paul, who lives in the shadow of his football hero brother Erik, fights for the right to play football despite his near blindness and slowly begins to remember the incident that damaged his eyesight.) [grades 7 – 10] This book suggested by Marilyn Taniguchi, Collection Services Manager, Beverly Hills Public Library.



Great Films and How to Teach Them by William V. Costanzo, 2004, National Council of Teachers of English. In addition, we consulted websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine.

Last updated December 9, 2009.

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