‘Bend it Like Beckham’ and ‘East is East’
By comparing the two films ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ and ‘East is East’, it is possible to compare the representation of both gender and ethnicity. Representation is the term for how a person, place or thing is portrayed- sometimes enforcing stereotypes and sometimes challenging- depending on the type of audience and the message the person creating it wants to give.
The two films being examined; from here on referred to as BILB and EE; although both sharing certain elements, have many differences. The main ones being that one film, BB, is set in Heathrow, London in modern day England and concentrates more on gender than ethnicity. EE however, which is set in Salford, Manchester in 1971, looks at ethnicity and regional issues instead.
Both films are under the category of comedies, set out as a traditional kitchen sink drama- only with a British/Asian twist. These sorts of films are typically used for examining social issues such as gender and class. In this case though obviously, it looks at ethnicity.
The makers of these films, and every other film that uses stereotypes, use them to help the audience identify with the characters more quickly so they can carry on following the story properly.
The title ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ is used simply because Jess worships David Beckham and it is a quote in the film, but ‘East is East’ has a slightly deeper meaning. It is taken from the phrase by Rudyard Kipling ‘East is East, West is West and never the twines shall meet;’ this means that people from the Western culture should stick with other Westerners; the same goes for people from the East; and that they cannot mix successfully. Since that’s exactly what the film is about, the title is very appropriate.
Jess, a teenage student who dreams of becoming a professional footballer, is the main character in BILB. Unlike most other girls of her age, she wants to be successful in life by her own means, as opposed to living on her husband’s wage- a very Western way of thinking. Her hopes and desires are also mirrored in the way she lives. For instance her bedroom, instead of being covered in posters of boys with pink splashed everywhere, is littered with Western football merchandise and could easily be mistaken for a boy’s bedroom. Her accent is nothing like anyone else’s in her family as she speaks in a clear, well spoken British manner, and her behaviour and way of thinking makes it obvious for people to see that she feels more ‘at home’ in a westernised environment.
The fact she feels more comfortable in the environment of her friends than her family is shown clearly a number of times during the film. One of these key scenes is at her sister’s engagement party. When everyone else is having a good time- laughing, dancing, joking and eating- she walks around handing out food on a plate with a miserable expression on her face. She doesn’t dance with the rest of them, laugh or joke: she just stands wishing she was playing football.
Another example would be when she goes with her sister and her mother to get her wedding clothes fitted. Her relatives are both excited and know what type of dresses they want, but Jess stands there looking uncomfortably at the potential wedding outfits, asking if she could ‘just where her tracksuit’. This makes it very clear she doesn’t feel at home in her family’s world and that she has completely adapted to the Western way of life.
This is the complete opposite of her soon to be married sister Pinkie. She is exactly what you’d stereotypically expect of a young Indian girl- her dreams in life revolve around getting married and having a baby; half of which she is near to achieving. Although she is also adapted well to the Western way of living, shown by her love of make-up, hair styles, nails and clothes, she still feels comfortable in her family’s Asian way of life- having an Indian wedding, enjoying the parties and getting excited over her sari.
As well as the psychological differences, there is also a lot of physical difference between the two girls. Pinkie enjoys being a ‘girly girl’- wearing tight fitting jeans, pink accessories galore and changing her hairstyle every few days, whereas Jess is never seen out of her tracksuits, always supports the same predictable pony tail and doesn’t wear make-up. For two sisters brought up in the same way, they are definitely very different.
All of these things challenge the stereotype that Indian girls should grow up only to be married, have children and cook- they can be ambitious and want to have a career instead. Jess also challenges the ‘girls can’t play football’ stereotype, as not only does she get a scholarship to an American school because of her football skills, there is also a scene in the park where she beats all of her male challengers.
This is also the scene when Jules, another football fan who belongs to a girl’s team, sees Jess playing and asks her to come for a trial, starting a strong friendship. Although the girls are from different ethnical backgrounds, their predicaments are still the same- just for different reasons. Jess is stopped from playing football by her mother, who wants to teach her to cook and find her a husband. She believes football is a waste of valuable time her daughter could be using to find a suitable ‘love-match’. Jules’ mom on the other hand is also trying to stop Jules from playing football, but because she is afraid her daughter will become a lesbian if she keeps on playing. She wants Jules to be a girly girl like all of her friend’s daughters.
The reasons for the mothers’ disagreement might be different, but the fact both Jules and Jess have opposition from their mothers gives them both a common enemy to talk about, making their friendship bond stronger. This also shows that ethnical background, colour of skin and religion do not affect relationships between people if the people involved are not concerned with those factors- a point Gurinder Chadha (the director) was probably trying to show the audience.
The other main character in this film is Mrs Bhamra, Jess’ mother who is represented in a completely different way to Jess. She is basically a much more exaggerated version of Pinkie- only without the Western influence. She talks with a fast, Indian accent- every now and then squeezing in phrases in her own language- and always wears traditional Asian clothes. Her whole existence seems to be based around organising parties/weddings and cooking. Her outlook on what her daughters lives should be like is also near enough exactly the same as her life. While this is near enough what Pinkie wants anyway, it couldn’t be more different to Jess’ ideal future playing football; an idea that disgraces her mother who values family honour and tradition more than anything, illustrated by ‘She shouldn’t be running and showing her bare legs!’ which she says after seeing Jess play ‘footie’ with her male friends in the park.
However there are some subtle traits that both mother and daughter share- their trust in a higher power represented on paper for example. Her mother keeps a portrait of Guru Nanak above the fire place in the centre of the living room, and asks him for advice and strength whenever she needs it. Jess also keeps a poster of David Beckham above her bed, also using it for guidance when she needs help. This shows that both have the capacity to believe in something whole-heartedly; it’s the family and environmental influences around them which help them place their faith in one person.
Mrs Bhamra is so much of an exaggerated stereotype that she almost becomes a comical figure instead of an individual; also reinforced by the fact she is only ever called ‘Mrs Bhamra’ or ‘Mom’- showing that is how she is seen by others, as a wife and mother.
The fact that Mrs Bhamra reinforces the ‘Indian woman’ stereotype is a negative thing as it is a bad image for anyone to think. However in this film, it is necessary to give Jess an obstacle to overcome to make it interesting for the audience to watch, and also because Jess has to be able to relate to Jules- whose mother is also reinforcing a stereotypical view of English women and stopping her from playing football. When we put all of these characters together, along with the mothers’ negative images, it becomes comical because it is so exaggerated, making people perceive it as a joke and therefore not take the stereotypes as real representations of the types of people in the film.
In the second film, EE, George is the father-‘the head of the household’ or so he sees himself. Full of contradictions in the way he lives, he wants his children to conform and accept everything he tells them to do or say. That is why he gets so angry when his eldest son, Nazir, runs out on a wedding he had arranged for him- he wants to be in complete control like he would be in Pakistan if he had stayed with his first wife. The problem being of course that because he married an English women the second time around, his children have been brought up in a half Western household and therefore do not see themselves obliged to live like their father, but as ‘normal’ British people.
On the other hand, he doesn’t live how he orders his children to live, making him a complete hypocrite. Where he expects them to blindly marry someone he chooses with no complaints, who is of course Muslim and from Pakistan, he is allowed to get divorced from his arranged marriage and marry again to someone of his own choice- a white, English woman. This is especially unusual as the setting of the film is 1970’s Salford as it would have been very looked down upon- inter-racial couples were too different for people to accept.
The fact George goes for an English wife the second time around shows he is trying desperately to be more Western, even going as far as to buy a chip shop and name it ‘The English Chippy’- a name that is not necessary as chip ships are traditionally English anyway. This also adds more to his hypocritical image. Although he is proud of his Pakistani heritage and wants his children to benefit from his background, he is also determined to be more British and fit in with the English way of life. But even though he goes through this confliction in his head, he doesn’t show understanding when his children go though the same thing, in fact he shows the opposite emotion and becomes angry and even disowns his eldest son.
This type of behaviour makes his family fear his reactions, making them do things like hide bacon the children have been eating when George walks in the room, and go to the Mosque when they really don’t take anything in- they only go to George happy. A little unfair as he is quite selfish in the way he treats them back; making decisions about their futures based on how he feels about it instead of his children’s happiness.
Another way George attempts to feel like he fits in is to change his name to something more Western as it was obviously not George to start with. Though yet again when his son, Tariq, lies and says his name is Tony, he tells him off.
Tariq is similar in many ways to Jess in BILB. He encounters the same problem as her when it comes to ‘doing his own thing’- one of his parents wants him to act more traditional like he had to when he was younger. The difference however between Jess’ mother and Tariq’s dad is that his dad should understand why Tariq is unhappy as he went through exactly the same thing, whereas Jess’ mother wants to pass on her tradition to her daughter because she sees it as the best thing for her.
Another similarity, possibly the main one, is that they both fight off stereotypes- Jess’ challenges the female stereotype and Tariq challenges the Asian stereotype. Tariq though, unlike Jess, fights it in a different way. Where Jess tried even harder to become successful at her football, Tariq tries to show non-conformity by doing the opposite of whatever his father wants him to do; i.e. he goes out with a white girl behind everyone’s backs.
At the time this film was set, a politician called Enoch Powell was encouraging racism towards non-white people in Britain. The film only exposes the racism without forcing its own opinion on the audience, by introducing a small character who represents Enoch and people like him in the form of Tariq’s girlfriend’s grandfather. Whenever we see him on screen, he is expressing the views of the people like Enoch Powell for everyone around him to hear. This also adds a sense of realism to the film as that is what people actually would have been like in the 1970s.
George and his family face racism on a day to day basis because of George’s ethnicity and the family’s unusual situation, but I think on the whole they deal with it well; all apart from Tariq who is desperate to get back at his father and fit into the Westernised culture. This is illustrated perfectly by the line he says in the middle of the film- ‘I’m not Pakistani, I was born here.’ Although he looks like he was born in Pakistani because of his fathers genes, he was born and bred in Salford, Manchester and therefore feels British.
The stereotypical view of George shows a very old-fashioned idea of what Pakistani man should be like- head of the household; in charge of everything apart from raising the kids, and so is a very negative stereotype to show the audience. This however is not taken to be a serious representation of modern Pakistani men because the audience can see that society was different in 1970s from other parts in the film, letting them know that image of Pakistani men is out-dated.
The rest of the family however challenge the Asian stereotype completely. Unlike Jess’ mother in BILB, the children and their mother are all very settled in the British way of life- probably a lot to do with the fact their mother is a white British woman.
Overall, I think both films use representation effectively to discuss serious issues in society such as ethnicity and gender- most of the time using comedy to make the film enjoyable as well as meaningful.
BILB uses just the right blend of gender issues, sports and comedy to get its point across not only to young teens but to people of any age. EE however has a more mixed effect. George’s character is negative because he reinforces the ‘1970’s Pakistani man’ stereotype by being the domineering and violent head of the household- but he also marries a white women which challenges it. However just like in the case of Mrs Bhamra, it is necessary for him to have a negative image so that more positive parts of the film are made more obvious.
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