May 2003
Bend It Like Beckham : An Interview with Parminder K. Nagra

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Bend It Like Beckham: An Interview with Parminder K. Nagra

In the last few years, there has been a growing number of Indian films that have crossed over to a mass appeal and doing well at the box office. To name a few, films like East is East, Mississippi Masala, and Monsoon Wedding were fan favorites. Bend It Like Beckham is not an Indian film although Indian themes are featured in the film. One of the stars of the film, Parminder K. Nagra plays one of the leads, Jess Bhamra, whose dream is to play soccer unbeknownst to her parents. In an interview with, Parminder talks about the film and the success it has received so far as the film expands in the United States.

WM: How much fun did you have making this film?

PN: It was great. It’s been such an incredible journey. It’s kept going for as long as it has. At the time we were making it, we thought it would do well because it had all those ingredients in it. We were pretty much having a good laugh as we were making it. But to think that it slowly started to sprout all these little tentacles The film was going into Europe, and then India, and the Australia, and then culminating and opening in the U.S; and then being received so well in the U.S. It’s been all worth while really. It was two months of hard work but fun. Gurinder made sure that we had fun doing the film. There were times when she flipped out, where we would be like, “Oh, my God” and in the next breathe she’d be laughing. She would be just crack up. And we would know she’s ok.

She’s got it off her chest and she’s all right now.

WM: Gurinder (the director) said that you weren’t so receptive when you about the film. Is that true?

PN: She’s been going around telling this story that I lied to her. Originally when she told me she was doing this project, which was five years ago now, she said to me, “I’ve got this football project. Have you ever played soccer before?” And I said, “Well, I did a little bit in a play once.” And that’s where the Chinese whispers went on I think. Obviously, I didn’t know how much she meant. Then of course the script arrived and there’s like loads of stuff. I was so thankful that we had Simon Clifford, our trainer because he was very patient with us. We had a couple of months before shooting the movie and me and Keira hadn’t played at all. So what we do is meet up with him every other day and then train with him for about 3 or 4 hours and then go back home. He would send a program with us about soccer info such as jogging with the ball and the first touch of the ball, and practicing certain skills that eventually we would incorporate in the movie. His way of teaching is sort of Brazilian, in which the technique is cultivating an individual soccer player as in terms I think the football association way of teaching you in England is that when they teach you, they quickly tell you of your mistakes. He really let us have a lot of trial and error because obviously we are not going to be fantastic footballers but at least he wanted us to be competent enough to look like we did. We were also determined not to have a body double. I though that if I’m going to do this, I will do it myself. I would practice in my back yard. There were time when I thought I had enough, but it kept going, and at the end of the day, I knew it would be just me. I wanted to look good, and that kept me going.

WM: How long have you been studying acting?

PN: I actually never went to drama school. I pretty much came in through the back door. My drama teacher at senior school was doing a musical this one year and I had just finish my A levels, at the age of 17, in college. I was going to take a year off and go to a university and get a dual degree in music and in drama. But he was doing this musical and he was giving our youth the experience to work with professional actors. It was 4 professional actors, 3 males and 1 female lead and she ended up walking out of the production, and they literally saw working during the week and asked me if I would like to take over the role. I said “yeah” of course. So I ended up taking over the role and then I got an agent from that. I did sign with her right until a few months later when I was sure. Looking back now, there aren’t many agents that would sit down and say, “I’d like to look after you.” and be patient for a period of time while you mull it over. I know that it’s not the norm and Joan was fantastic. Then I went off to London and did Christmas show where I played Sleeping Beauty. That’s how I really started.

WM: Why do you think there’s a fascination with the Indian community where it be Indian-Britain or Indian-American?

PN: I think people caught on to the idea that you could make some money with these types of films. People are going to see these films. It’s so nice to go to a movie theater in England and see “Lagaan” and “Devdas”. You could go see Indian movies in a Warner Bros. or Odeon Cinema whereas before you couldn’t do. I think that more people are writing and more people are willing to take risks with it and they could be clever with that stuff. The clever thing that Gurinder has done with “Bend It Like Beckham”, which I think is sort of like breaking the glass ceiling, is that you’ve got this whole kind of cross cultural thing going on. She’s been very clever in her casting of the film, and then you have the title of “Bend It Like Beckham.” You can’t specifically pigeon-hole the film and when the poster came out in England with me and Keira, guys didn’t want to go see a chick flick. and girls didn’t want to go see a soccer film. But nobody where to pigeon-hole the film, all sorts of people went to see it and word of mouth started to get out. I think people are ready to see that kind of stuff and it could only get better. I’d love to get away from the cultural stuff and stop having the cultural stamp and play a regular person.

WM: I think the film has universal themes in some ways.

PN: I think that’s also why the film has done so well. People don’t feel so alienated from it that they kind of going, “Oh my God, it’s so specific about that culture. I can’t get my head around it.” To me, it didn’t have to be about soccer. It’s about dreams to me. At the end the dreams of both girls are fulfilled no matter how big or small it is. It’s all valuable. One’s not better than the other and that’s what saw in it. I think that’s what universal about the film. Most people come out of the film smiling and feel like they have been in those shoes before and know what it feels like when dealing with restricted parents.

WM: Did you get to meet David Beckham?

PN: I met him in Manchester at a screening Gurinder had for him and Posh (Spice) and some of his teammates. I sat behind them and remembered sitting behind the captain of England’s team as he watches a skill that he’s been perfecting for years and here I’ve done it for a few months. I kept a low profile. After the film was over, he was with Victoria (Posh) and he put his hand out and said “Well done.”

WM: What did you think about the music in the film?

PN: I think that’s one of the things that powers the movie. It’s a soundtrack to Jess’ journey. I think it’s really powerful. I love the Indian music that Gurinder has put in. There’s a scene where I’m scrubbing my kicks and I’m crying, there that’s Indian song. It’s a Punjabi song, which means “Never forget your roots” and “Never forget who you are”. It’s such a powerful song. I also loved the Texas (the band) song. What I like about movies is that you can relate certain songs to your life.

WM: What’s next for you?

PN: I just finished three great projects in the last year. I played Viola in “Twelfth Night” for Channel 4. It’s very different from Jess, the character in “Bend It Like Beckham”. I did “Ella Enchanted”, a Miramax film coming out in August. The film is like a modern day Cinderella and I play the best friend. And I just did a two-part drama again for Channel 4 called “Second Generation” where Om Puri, who starred in “East is East”, is playing my dad in that film. The film is sort of based on King Lear and it’s contemporary set in the East. Then I had some meetings in L.A and may have a few things lined up.

WM: Thanks.

PN: Thank You!