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Sunday, December 10, 2023

How ‘Fighting With My Family’ Exudes the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ Fervour

Fighting With My Family (FWMF) is a biographical sports comedy-drama based on English wrestler Paige who, at the age 21, was crowned the WWE Divas champion.

Subsequently, Paige (whose real name is Saraya-Jade Bevis) became the youngest champion in the title’s history.

The movie exudes a strong British flavour and focuses on the concepts of family, dreams/aspirations and adapting to one’s surroundings.

Undoubtedly, it is a film which truly tickles the funny bones and there are moments where you will shed a tear or two.

I felt very nostalgic about Bend It Like Beckham (BILB) when I watched Fighting With My Family – whose executive producer is Dwayne Johnson.

Stephen Merchant’s film almost begins where BILB concludes.

But the main difference is that Fighting With My Family is based on a real-life story, while the Gurinder Chadha movie is mainly a work of fiction.

After thinking about it, I came to a realisation that there are quite a few interlinking connections between both different films.

Two Female Protagonists’ Sports Passion

Despite timid and unconventional exteriors, both protagonists are fiery and passionate about their respective sports.

Jesminder ‘Jess’ Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) in Bend It is an 18-year-old dutiful daughter of Punjabi Sikhs in Hounslow, London.

Jess is infatuated and highly skilled in football but her parents have forbidden her to play because she is a girl.

She joins a local women’s team, which makes its way to the top of the league.

The movie traces how Jesminder convinces her traditional Indian parents to allow her to pursue her passion.

Saraya ‘Paige’ Bevis (Florence Pough) from Norwich develops an affinity towards wrestling from a young age and she hails from a wrestling family.

She began wrestling with her brother Zak ‘Zodiac’ Bevis (Jack Lowden) and slowly that becomes her passion.

In both films, we see determination and ambition in both female protagonists.

At the same time, there is also a phase of giving up dreams for the sake of the family.

Plus, we get to see a motivational rapports between Jess, Paige and their coaches.

For instance in Bend It Like Beckham, Coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is initially quite harsh on Jess.

Similarly, coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) belittles Paige but is aware of her full potential as a wrestler.

It is interesting to see how both characters of Jess and Paige exude female empowerment in a subtle and unique way.

Family Dynamics

The families play huge roles in both movies.

Jesminder’s family is a conventional Indian family and her mother, Mrs Bhamra (Shaheen Khan) wants her to become a domesticated girl.

Her mother constantly taunts her:

“Who will want a daughter-in-law who can kick a football all day but can’t make round chapattis?”

Mr Bhamra (Anupam Kher), however, is low-key supportive of his daughter’s passion for the sport.

The Bevis clan in Fighting With My Family is quite the opposite.

Paige’s parents (dad played by Nick Frost, mother essayed by Lena Headey) are your idiosyncratic, compassionate British family.

In fact, Mr and Mrs Bevis wholeheartedly support their daughter’s passion and become her backbone during low-phases.

However, there seems to be a similarity in the relationships between the siblings and female protagonists.

As for Jess’ sister, Pinky (Archie Panjabi) is a confidante but reveals her secrets when marriage is at stake.

In FWMF, wrestling in WWE is Zak’s dream since a young age.

Despite being quite close to his sister, he becomes consumed by disappointment and even jealousy because his sister gets to pursue his dreams – which is also Paige’s.

Above all, both films emphasise the importance of family values and how we must always support one another.

In fact, seeing Paige’s parents support her in pursuing her dreams is a quality which all South-Asians could be inspired by.

Cultural Milieu

Bend It Like Beckham and Fighting With My Family both exude a strong British flavour, to which many of us can relate to.

Gurinder Chadha’s film shows the life of Asian immigrants in the UK.

There is a scene where Mr Bhamra explains his ordeal of being excluded from a cricket club because of his skin colour.

Jess adheres to the cultural heritage as well as adapting to her British surroundings.

However, even though she balances both lifestyles, she also gets subjected to racism and bigotry.

Whilst playing football she gets called a ‘Paki’ and faces ignorant questions by her friend’s mother, Mrs Paxton (Juliet Stevenson).

There seems to be a focus on hiding the weakness and following the status quo.

Mrs Bhamra is conscious about Jess showing her scars to the world and wants her to pursue a stereotypical academic career.

At the same time, Jess is looked down upon by other Indian girls for not being ladylike or trying to look attractive enough.

But the beauty about Jess’ character is that she is quite confident in her dressing-sense and doesn’t allow herself to be phased by what others think.

Fighting With The Family addresses ‘taboo’ matters openly and in a light-hearted manner.

The eldest son is in prison and Zak has a child out of wedlock… Such subjects would be brushed under the carpet in an Asian family.

However, the fact that the Bevis household discusses this without feeling embarrassment is a testament to how we all (regardless of race) must accept our life situations wholeheartedly.

As such, the movie showcases a British white girl being treated like an immigrant in the USA.

When Paige goes to America, we see shots of her facing a culture shock by the living standards in the US.

Despite being British and white, she too is surprisingly subjected to prejudice.

We observe how she is a ‘dropout from Harry Potter’ and even gets told to ‘go back to Hogwarts’.

Paige also tries to change her style and dress sense in order to look as attractive as other American models.

Until now, we had mainly seen how ethnic minority girls have accustomed themselves to their surroundings.

However, to see a western girl like Paige having to adapt and also face backlash for being different is quite eye-opening.

Final Word

On the whole, Fighting With My Family is a highly relatable film.

The film highlights concepts which many of us South-Asians have been through, especially when it comes to pursuing our dreams and dealing with familial issues.

Plus, the British backdrop makes the movie seem more personal than ever.

Somehow, if we really think about it, there is a Paige and Jesminder in all of us.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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