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  • The Remaking of a Model Minority:Perverse Projectiles under the Specter of (Counter)Terrorism
  • Jasbir K. Puar (bio) and Amit S. Rai (bio)

In Gurinder Chadha's most recent film, Bend It Like Beckham (2002), British Punjabi Sikh Jess (Jesminder) Bhamra and her white Brit counterpart, Jules (Juliette) Paxton, seek a gendered and racialized haven for female soccer players. A film that is part of both the successive waves of antiracist diasporic film production in England since the 1980s and also the new globalized cinematic commodity assimilated under the category of "Planet Bollywood," Bend It Like Beckham is set in the outskirts of London near Heathrow airport and foregrounds the stereotypical culture-clash narrative: soccer-loving Jess faces off with both the traditional expectations (education, marriage) of her immigrant parents and the racism of British society toward Asians.1 The same-sex eroticism between Jess and Jules is toyed with endlessly throughout the film—they both fall for their male soccer coach, they are mistaken as lesbian lovers embracing at a bus stop, they join forces for the strategic assist-and-shoot lineup on their soccer team, and eventually both receive offers to play soccer at the same college.

While sexuality functions somewhat fluidly throughout the film, the assumptions of hierarchy and privilege that characterize the racial landscape of the United States in relation to Britain are teleologically tightly bound. Unable to continue their pursuit of professional women's soccer in the United Kingdom, the two leave for fellowships at "Santa Clara University" in America to play college soccer; the story line's solution amounts to the gender as well as racial exceptionalism of the United States. There, Jess and Jules can play women's soccer without compromising their heterosexuality or their homoerotic bond. It is also the site of salvation for racial others: unlike Britain, the United States promises for Jess an acceptance of her brownness along with an escape from her conservative familial home and extended neighborhood community in Hounslow. America will provide the spaces of hybridity so elusive for Jess, the antsy yet dutiful daughter. "America" also epitomizes the phantasmic space of racial harmony and multiculturalism: in the final scenes of the film, Jess's Irish soccer coach, Joe, is seen playing cricket with Jess's dad, as he attempts to woo the father of the girl he loves. (Note Joe's very dated attempt at racial alliance with Jess after she is called a "Paki" during a match: "I'm Irish. [End Page 75] Of course I know how you feel.") In short, the United States symbolizes opportunity, escape, and reconciliation of the clash of cultures. It purports to be a safety valve for the unyielding racism, sexism, and homophobia of other places.

Ironically, it is this commodified hybrid utopia that is actually signaled and produced in the film's soundtrack. Bally Sagoo ("one of the more happening purveyors" of British bhangra, ragga, hip-hop, and Bollywood) mixes freely, even promiscuously, with Victoria Beckham (a.k.a. Posh Spice) on the same disk.2 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (nominated for best Pakistani singer by one fan Web site) and Hans Raj Hans ("the Greatest Singer of Punjab," according to another fan Web site) mark the close relations and partial incorporation of Chadha's filmic aesthetic into the differently hybridizing projects of both British South Asian pop music and an emergent but already tightly knit cosmopolitan South Asian identity, aesthetic, and commodity culture.3 If the movie is about the diaspora, the soundtrack is at least as much about the home nation. Clearly, then, these new formations cut across the diasporic and the national. The importance of a film like Bend It Like Beckham lies in how the too easily celebrated hybrid-diasporic-nationalist utopia produced through the film's aesthetic and soundtrack functions with the multicultural representation of divergent and intersecting histories of hegemonic struggles in Britain to produce a narrative desire for an outside space of sexual and racial freedom beyond the nation and beyond race. Through these narrative and nonnarrative processes, the movie's mode of address brings together both discourses common to hegemonic formations of race (multiculturalism, nationalist xenophobia, Punjabi "traditionalism") as well...


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pp. 75-104
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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