Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Uncrossable Line

Bend It Like Beckham is a rather well done "girl power" movie, taking place in the familiar (at least to Jews) confines of family and culture. But after watching it again recently, I have been nagged by the conclusion. 

To synopsize (for those who have not seen it; obviously, spoilers ahead), 18-year-old Jesminder, known as Jess, a Punjabi Sikh, loves to play soccer with the other Indian boys in the park (when her mother's not looking). One day, Juliette ("Jules"), a (white) soccer player, walks by, sees her mad skills, and offers her a chance to be a part of an actual girls' team. 

Jess's parents do not want her playing soccer at all, especially her mother, who insists she must focus on university and learning how to cook a full Indian dinner (both vegetarian and meat) for her future husband. 

The "aunties" at one point ask her, what is she looking for? A clean-shaven boy, or one with a turban and full beard? (It would seem that us Jews are not particularly unique; it must be a middle-eastern/central-Asian concept). 
Jess joins the team on the sly.

Jules has a serious crush on Joe, the coach (played rather woodenly, in my opinion, by Jonathon Rys-Meyers), but for some reason he makes eyes at Jess, who apparently returns his ardor (I thought the film did not show enough of a basis for a romantic relationship between the two, but whatevs). 

There are numerous situations when Jess's parents find out, forbid her from donning cleats ever again, and she somehow manages to sneak out and kick that ball.  

Her father, who used to be a professional cricket player, had been banned from participating when he moved to England due to his race; one day, when he realizes Jess has scurried off to play, he follows her and sees her in action. He is proud of her ability, and finally gives his blessing (behind Mum's back). But a big game is scheduled on the same day as Jess's sister's wedding, where an American scout will be present.

Jess is determined to be happy for her sister's wedding day, but cannot stop from looking so miserable that her father lets her slip away unnoticed during the raucous after-ceremony festivities. The scout sees her on the field, and wants to sign on both Jules and Jess for a California college team.

By some further miracle, she manages to talk her parents into letting her go, even though they don't want her to. She happily runs off, her party raiment messy and sweaty, to tell Joe, who moves in for a kiss. She stops him, saying it was a big step for her parents to agree to California; she can't take it any further by having a relationship with a non-Indian.

The last scene is at the airport, when Joe catches Jess before she boards her flight to the States. We have something special, he insists, even with your parents' objections, even with the long distance; we should go after it. Smooch. The romantic ending everyone wants.

What niggled me about this, I realize now, is that the parents are proven right. She went to play soccer, in turn leaves home to attend a school far far away, and the next step is to end up with a gora boyfriend, seemingly shedding her religious background and beliefs

The movie seems to think it's fine; after all, what sort of significance does an uptight, restrictive culture have, after all? 

A much better conclusion would have been, I decided, is if she went followed her passion in California, but meets a nice Indian boy from New Jersey. Maybe a medical student.

The single Sikh boys in the movie are depicted as sleazy, vulgar, sexist, and stupid (except for Jess's friend Tony, who's gay); no wonder Jess is taken with Joe. Considering her father's quiet dignity, I am quite sure are plenty of Sikh boys (in real life) who are sweet and intellectual

We Jews had our time when we feared that a college education or a professional career would be the slippery slope to McDonald's and intermarriage. But now we know how to handle it, and today it has been shown to be a relatively invalid concern. Sure, there are some that did leave the fold, but they would have anyway. 

For any religious individual, there is that uncrossable line. I can be pretty much whatever I want to be, whatever I choose to be, but my faith and my culture will not be compromised.

Tevye was able to handle Tzeitel pledging to marry Motel. He was able to handle Hodel merely asking for his blessing, as opposed to his permission, to marry that good-for-nothing communist. But when Chava begged for acceptance after marrying Fyedka, he roared: "There is no other hand! No! No!" 
Stanley Fish's reports in "Marrying Out of the Faith," citing Naomi Schaefer Riley's book, that intermarrying is not as simple as one would think, even when parents have flashed the thumbs-up. Shared morals, in many cases, can serve as insufficient glue in the face of two separate religious doctrines. Interpolitical marriages are at a lower rate that intermarriage, funnily enough, and politics should be a lesser concern than faith, one would think. 

Even in cases of lax observance, sentimental traditions can be a quagmire. Riley lists reasons why couples ignore differing religions—one would be this American mishagaas of "Love conquering all." Additionally, we are in an age of over-tolerance; beliefs shouldn't matter at all ever, the same way skin-color is immaterial, right? But faith is not the same as race.

So go, girl, and play for a professional college team. But Joe? Encourage him to ask Jules out instead.        


FrumGeek said...

Love conquers all? A very American concept, and a foolish one at that. I know a number of couples who everyone including their parents were against the relationship, they married anyways, and today are either divorced or unhappily married. I'm not saying that it can't work out, but the likelyhood is miniscule.

Chaya said...

I'd imagine the brain behind the movie is the equivalent of someone who's off the derech. the negative portrayal may be because of one bad experience with an Asian boy and, like many otd'ers, relates to the experience as universal.

Princess Lea said...

FG: Very often, those that are disconnected to a relationship will see the flaws the lovey-dovey ones miss. Sometimes it's to ignore one's heart.

Chaya: I concur. It does have that vibe, a OTD Sikh who wants to diss her background. There is something about Indians that is so familiar to our world . . .

Sefardi Gal said...

Wow, Princess Lea, I know this post is nearly a month old, but FINALLY SOMEONE AGREES WITH ME!
I watched this movies quite a few times since it came out.
(Haven't watched it in a looong time since becoming more charedi :D)
but I always thought Joe should've ended up with Jules and WISH that they would've had a normal, straight Indian guy who would've supported Jess & loved her for who she is.

Princess Lea said...

I know! Why did Joe go for Jess anyway? So they have matching leg injuries? Please! Jules is feisty and looks gorgeous when she's dressed up—and he doesn't even give her a glance? Please!

There are so many cute Indian boys out there! What is this that they look like their all perverts? Where have all the engineers and doctors gone?

Sefardi Gal said...

I'm with you girl!
Maybe they'll come out with a sequel where she breaks up with Jo Shmo and looks for a modern Indian man! :D

Princess Lea said...

I would LOVE that. She marries a cute doctor from Bombay.