Gurinder Chadha co-wrote the script with a friend, Guljit Bindra, and screenwriting partner Paul Mayeda Berges. During the 1998 World Cup and the European Football Championships, Chadha was astonished at how many people watched the matches - euphoric when England won but depressed and desolate when they lost. "I went to my local pub to watch the games and was amazed to see grown men crying on the pavements of Camden High Street when England were out of the cup," says the director. "I'd only ever seen the country like this when Lady Diana died. I had got the football bug and thought, 'wouldn't it be great to take all this energy, and put two girls in the middle of it all?'" The film was to centre on an Indian girl who idolizes David Beckham; and an English girl who idolizes USA women's soccer star Mia Hamm. The two girls are desperate to play football, but they are surrounded by naysayers who say they can't because it's not feminine.
David Beckham was chosen as Jess' role model for two reasons; he is one of the top players in the world and he challenges the preconceptions of what the public imagines a footballer to be. Bindra too was a big fan! "In many ways, Beckham is the perfect catch for an Indian mother," says Chadha. "He loves his wife, he has a son, he is also a good father and he's changed the meaning of what we used to consider the traditional macho footballer. " Chadha also felt that Beckham challenged what people considered masculine in the same way she wanted the girls in the script to challenge what the general public considered feminine. "As an athlete you simply have to admire Beckham's ability to defy gravity and bend the ball in the way that he does. " Continues the director, "we came up with the title because it also works as an excellent metaphor for the film as the girls 'bend' the rules rather than 'break' them so they can get what they want. "
The film is set in Southall and West London, where Chadha grew up. Although the football is an integral part of the script, Chadha wanted to focus, on the girls and their family lives. "Although I do believe it's a very different time now for girls," continues the director, "in other ways this film is my most autobiographical to date. Not only is the film set in Southall where I grew up, but the relationship between Jess and her father is very similar to my relationship with my dad. I made this film as a tribute to him. "
Producer Deepak Nayar fell instantly in love with BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. "I met Gurinder a few years ago when she was working on her then project 'What's Cooking?'," he says. "We kept in touch, and when she showed me BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, I knew this was the film I wanted to make with her. "
Nayar and Chadha actively started putting the financing together at Sundance 2000. Having worked with Road Movies (Germany) on several other projects in the past, Nayar approached them and they came on board, followed by British Screen and The Film Council. Helkon SK, formerly known as Redbus, read the script and was very excited about it. ''Having distributed 'What's Cooking?' in the UK, we were familiar with Gurinder's work. We built up a good relationship with her through this, and were only too pleased to come on board. We worked closely with Gurinder and the final result was exactly what we were all looking for, a coming of age drama," says Executive Producer Zygi Kamasa. Principal photography began on BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM on June 18, 2001. A variety of locations around London and Shepperton studios were used for the nine-week shoot with the semi-final taking place over a three-day period in Hamburg, Germany.
Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the rights to distribute in the U. S. out of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
Chadha played an active role in the casting and took the opportunity to cast actors she had admired for a long time. These included several generations of British Asian actors who she felt were never given enough opportunities to show off their talents.
Chadha knew the role of Jess would carry the weight of the film and had first seen Parminder Nagra in a play called 'Oh Sweet Sita' at the Oval Theatre in 1997. Gurinder recounts, "I was instantly taken with her and when I started writing the screenplay I always had her in mind. " Gurinder approached her in 1998, and asked if she'd played football before. "She lied to me and said she had," says the director. "Still even if I'd known that she'd never played football before, I always knew she was the only actress for the role. She has an innocence on screen that is completely arresting and she worked harder on preparing for the role than any actor I'd ever worked with. "
Jules needed to be played by an actress that would capture the self-confidence and drive girls have today. As soon as Chadha met Keira Knightley she knew she was perfect for the role. She was shocked to learn that Knightley had just turned 16, as she had a wonderful combination of youthfulness with a mature screen presence. "Keira would come to training in between studying for her GCSEs," says the director "which completely impressed the whole cast. The schedule had to be adjusted around her finishing her exams but everyone felt it was well worth it. "
Chadha wanted Joe, the coach, to be someone who the audience would really feel for, not a clichéd London lad who screams from the sidelines. She admired Jonathan Rhys Meyers' work and wanted to cast him as an ordinary boy next door using his natural Irish accent, a role quite different from what he was used to. Says Chadha, "Jonathan is very charming, beautiful looking and has an electric screen presence. I completely believed that both Jess and Jules could fall head over heels for him. "
For the role of Mr. Bhamra, Chadha needed an actor who would be able to portray a man who had grown up in a totally different culture from the one he was born into and show the complexities of coming to terms with that. Additionally, Chadha wanted someone the audience felt sympathetic toward. She knew the Bollywood actor Anupam Kher would be ideal for the role. "We were both excited that this would be his first British film. I asked him to act in a completely different style than he was used to, naturalistic as opposed to Bollywood, and he's done an amazing job," says the director.
On casting Archie Panjabi as Jess' tarty elder sister, Chadha playfully explains, "She's quite cutting and bitchy in real life so she was a perfect choice for Pinky!" To prepare for her role, Panjabi, who Chadha describes as a "great actress," spent a lot of time hanging out with girls like her character in London and Southall.
When casting the role of Paula, the brash, busty, mother of Jules, Chadha thought of Juliet Stevenson. Says the director, "she's one of our country's greatest actors, and I had never seen her do a role like this before. When we first met, I joked with her that it had taken her 15 years of Royal Shakespeare Company training to prepare her for the role of 'common-as-muck' Paula! When she opened her mouth at the first read through, I knew she had nailed the character instantly. "
For the role of Jess' mother, Mrs. Bhamra, Chadha turned to Shaheen Khan, whom she had previously cast in BHAJI ON THE BEACH. "I knew she could do it even though she looks far too young and trendy to play the mum," Chadha muses. To morph into the role, Khan put on weight and spent a great deal of time in her trailer practicing what Chadha refers to as the "stern-mum gaze. " Chadha laughingly says that Khan was playing a combination of her own mother and Chadha's.
The wedding scene was one of the highlights for both the director and crew. Chadha details, "To get the extras right in the wedding scenes I used a lot of my relatives, especially my mother and aunts as they all looked so authentic and it had to look like everyone was having a good time. " Continues Chadha, "directing them was a different matter. It was a nightmare. My mum kept interrupting me when I was giving orders to the crew, screaming my Indian nickname out in front of everyone. That was very embarrassing. I would say 'Mum Please!' and she would start yelling in Punjabi and tell me so and so's auntie is hidden from the camera or such and such auntie is too far in the background, no one will see her. It was all very amusing for everyone involved. "
To cast the team members for the Hounslow Harriers, Chadha and team were looking for athletic, confident girls with good soccer skills. They worked with the UK's Football Association and ended up casting actual players from a variety of school teams.
Chadha did her homework when it came to shooting the football scenes. "I looked at just about every sports movie I could find with my Director of Photography, Jong Lin, and talked
through how we wanted the camera to move and capture the action. " Lin, who had previously worked with Chadha on 'What's Cooking?,' designed his own piece of camera equipment specifically for shooting the action sequences. The Wego, a similar device to the Steadicam, was used for the very low-angled, fast-moving shots that could not be accomplished with the Steadicam. "The Wego created a new vision of shooting the football scenes as you could avoid those high-angled shots, seen so many times in football sequences. " Continues Lin, "because the Wego had to be held by two people, it achieved a very steady, sharp look and allowed Paul Mayeda Berges, the 2nd Unit Director, to get very involved with the sequences. "
Chadha brought Simon Clifford on board to coordinate the football sequences and train the girls. He worked with the leading actors and actresses in the film using Futebol de Salao training techniques to ensure that the football scenes were of the highest quality. Clifford worked in the weeks prior to filming to bring the football up to standard and during filming to choreograph the football scenes.
Having previously consulted on the film THERE'S ONLY ONE JIMMY GRIMBLE, starring Robert Carlyle, Gina McKee & Ray Winstone, Clifford was only too familiar with football choreography. Says Clifford, "I was totally flattered but my biggest worry when I came to BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM was that I hadn't worked with girls as frequently as with boys. The type of players I was most accustomed to working with were gritty lads, and in this case I needed a totally different style of coaching for the girls. "
It was up to Clifford to establish a sophisticated and comprehensive training program, as the girls had to look like genuine footballers. Training schedules were tailor-made to each individual and Clifford spent 10 weeks working with the principle cast. As the rest of the team was to be comprised of experienced players, it was important that the actors look like they could handle themselves on the field.
To add spontaneity to the scenes, surprises were dropped in, which only a few girls were aware of. "It is difficult to make football scenes look authentic on screen because of the speed, nature and movement inherent with the game," says Clifford. "Many films have struggled to attain this realism and it was my job to ensure that this was not the case for BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. "
Shaznay Lewis, who plays Mel the team captain, was cast later than the others and a few extra sessions were scheduled into her training practice to make up for extra time. Says Clifford, "she took her role in this, her first film, very seriously and worked incredibly hard at all of the sessions we did together. Her hard work and effort, like that of the others, had really paid off. "
The German match was the footballing high point and a time when both the actors and footballers looked like professionals. "They played and felt like a proper team that had been playing for years together," Chadha said. "They more than held their own in a match that was extremely intense. .. Once I got the shots I needed, I'd yell cut but no one would stop playing. The girls refused to lose, they had completely forgotten the script and they begged me to let them keep playing until they could give the German side a good stuffing…the most bizarre thing was how the crew went berserk supporting our girls against the German girls!"