Musical Review: Bend It Like Beckham

(Another Arts Award thing.)

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In the melting pot that is London, there is no shortage of shows, exhibitions and other such events which focus on exploring cultural history, cultural conflict and the challenges – and benefits – of living in the totally diverse, globalised and multicultural society we have today. In this section of my portfolio, I’m going to be reviewing two musicals and an exhibition, each of which takes a look at a very different aspect of culture and presents its discoveries in a very different way.

The first of these is the musical Bend it Like Beckham. Originally produced as a comedy film in 1997 by British company Redbus Film Distribution (now Lionsgate), it isn’t exactly the most highbrow choice of musical and is more of a fun fest of lights, puns and action to watch with family. But as well as having its fair share of “coolness”, which my football-obsessed younger brother adored, the musical and the movie on which it was based has several important and relatable cultural messages, and is the kind of musical which would give any progressive in the audience the urge to stand up, pump their fist and yell “YES!” multiple times. The story is quite straightforward – an Indian girl growing up in the UK loves football, her traditionalist, first-generation immigrant parents forbid her from playing and she continues to play after being scouted by a team while hiding this from her family, against the backdrop of her sister’s turbulent love life and a love triangle involving her coach and her best friend – but there are enough twists and subplots to keep the plot itself fast-paced and entertaining.

I fell in love with the movie (and, needless to say, its male protagonist) when I first watched it. It had the perfect mix of humour, food for thought, a killer soundtrack and plenty of Indian cultural references. So as something of a musical aficionado, I was beyond excited when I found out that there was to be a musical version of the film, and my expectations were extremely high. Especially because the last two theatrical adaptations of pieces of art which I loved – 1984 and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – had been stellar.

But unfortunately, I have now learnt not to expect so much. This musical was alright, but the film was a thousand times better. The problem wasn’t that the plot was not suited to the format of musicals. India has a rich (and very pleasing to the ear, though I may be slightly biased here) tradition of ethnic music, and a clever fusion of traditional and modern Indian music with Western music would have complemented the cultural clash narrated by the film really well. Instead, the music was mainly standard musical fare, all “heartfelt” ballads and showy dance numbers. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it works perfectly well with other musicals, but it made this particular musical feel more like a generic love story and less like a story of cultural conundrums. The generic feel of the music also made the musical as a whole less relatable; I never felt completely “in the shoes” of the protagonist, I felt as though I was just watching another musical. Which, again, works in some circumstances – I’m a big fan of episches Theater. However, as an Indian girl who grew up in the UK and has no intention of adhering to cultural customs and gender roles, I expect to be able to relate to stories about other Indian girls who grew up in the UK and have no intention of adhering to cultural customs and gender roles. And the fact that I didn’t while watching this means that something went very wrong. As for characterisation, staging and so on, it was all good, but there was nothing special and nothing that I feel inclined to comment on in that regard.

The mediocrity of the musical aside, the story itself is filled with cultural commentary. By this I don’t mean some kind of technical anthropological analysis, but something which can often be more illuminating than such analyses: relatable description of a situation which is very real amongst immigrants who have had children in a radically culturally different country and are having to deal with the discomfort of deviation from tradition in their own homes. As a third-generation immigrant (well, de jure I’m second-generation, but my mother came to the UK at a very young age so she was more like a second-generationer) I never really understood the cultural dilemma faced by many first-generation immigrants over whether to stay true to their traditional values or adapt to the more progressive values of their Westernised offspring; for me, the question was a no-brainer because I’d been so culturally Westernised.

But as I now see, for someone who has already had to deal with the absorption of the culture shock which comes with migration and with the arduous task of surpassing cultural boundaries and forgetting much of what they were taught as a child, raising a child from birth in a Western country and therefore having them irrevocably shaped in a Western way must prove stressful. Because when your child is Western, your household can no longer be a haven, a miniature Ahmedabad/Nairobi/Warsaw/wherever in the UK. It too will become foreign to you. Before you know, a foreign tongue will ring through it, foreign films will be watched in it, foreign costume will be worn in it, foreign food and friends and partners will be brought home to it. And this – whether it “should” be or not – is frightening. People have something of a dialectical relationship with change: we crave the new but find comfort in the old. This, arguably, applies more to cultural change than any other sort of change; it’s why you may believe in “la vie sans frontières” but still think that “there’s no place like home.” In today’s world, where thousands of people move to another country every year and you can barely turn on the news without hearing a story about immigration, this is more relevant than ever.



Culture Through Art (A Preface)

A preface for this thing I’m doing.

“Are you sure you don’t want to paint it, Ashna?”

It was 2006, I was 5 years old, and my supply teacher (spare a thought for her, dear reader) had just accomplished the incredible feat of getting me to do something I didn’t want to do: make a car out of cardboard and attach wheels to it. The next step was getting me to paint it, and by now the poor woman didn’t have the energy left in her to deal with another round of coaxing.

“I don’t like painting,” I maintained. What I should have said was that I didn’t like being forced to do things, I didn’t like doing pointless things (and no, a number in a markbook does not count as a “point” when it comes to art), I didn’t like my inability to adequately express myself through painting, and therefore I did not want to paint. But alas, my 5-year-old self was unaware of the intricacies of her dislike. She only knew that she was “bad” at painting and that she didn’t like it. This feeling extended to all aspects of art, design technology and physical education.

And so began my loveless relationship with the arts at school, that very moment when my supply teacher, relieved to be rid of me, gave me the “ok, dear” smile and left to heckle some other children. From then on I spent my art and design technology lessons distracting my friends, surfing the internet and doing last-minute chemistry revision, and it came to a point where my beleaguered art teachers would just let me do what I wanted, because I ostensibly hated art so much that it didn’t even matter.

The thing is, I don’t hate art, and I never have hated it. I love it. From a very young age, I have been singing and acting, visiting art museums and theatre productions, reading and writing voraciously, and above all, just being creative and expressing myself. And it’s sad, and symptomatic of the murder and burial of art and all autonomous action caused by our Prussianesque education system, that this has been misunderstood.

But I’m far too good at making unwarranted political criticisms and dragging my politics into my writing and analyses, so this project is going to be entirely apolitical. For once, I have been allowed a good bit of creative freedom within an institutional framework, by the Silver Arts Award programme. And I’m using said freedom to do something a bit different – different both from the kind of political and philosophical enquiry projects to which I’m accustomed, and from what you will generally see when you read Arts Award documents.

This portfolio, document, whatever you want to call it is not so much a documentation as an ode. I tend to write critiques; this, in contrast, is one big compliment. It is a song of praise to the world and its many contrasts and cultures and contradictions. And the challenge I’m setting myself isn’t to learn one single discipline, as such: it’s to learn and try out as many things as I can which give me a new cultural experience, which I can then analyse and connect to things I already know. Hopefully, this challenge won’t just open my eyes to the world’s complexity, but will also make for an interesting read.


Three very different moodboards

Mood boards are visual art’s answer to ‘word vomit’: they’re a way, at least for me, to vomit ideas out onto a page in a haphazard yet somehow organised manner when no known visual art form will do them justice. Of course, they are used a lot more professionally than that in interior design and other such fields, but I prefer to keep them raw, as jumbled representations of vague ideas. I’m an amateur, deal with it.

The mood boards which I’m about to show you are pretty much the only semi-good things to ever have come out of my design technology classes, because like all art forms, design technology became rigid and dull as soon as the education system got its hands on it. But I got a rare taste of autonomy when making these mood boards. Here are the results:

1. Revolutionanarchy moodboard.PNG

Yes, this was made during my anarchist days (don’t judge me, you were an anarchist too at some point) and it was the product of sheer desire for something really badass. I had just finished binge-reading about anarchist resistance during the Spanish Civil War and was very much inspired by what I’d read, hence the logo of the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and the nods to anarcho-syndicalist symbolism. But this mood board would be better described as an ode to rebellion, to kickassery, than merely as an anarchist mood board. The leather, colour scheme and references to breaking free and making a mess in the process represent this.



2. A little piece of quiet

cosy moodboard

Remember when, all of a sudden, a trend for ornaments and cushions reading ‘love’, ‘home’ and other similarly cutesy phrases sprung into existence? That trend – well, perhaps the logical extension of that trend – was my inspiration for this mood board, which, needless to say, is a tribute to home comforts and everything kitsch and cosy. This is the kind of décor which makes you cringe, but which inexplicably makes you feel warm and fuzzy at the same time.


3. Stuck Inside of Mobile

memphis moodboard

The final mood board is based on one of my favourite art movements: Memphis. I’ve always had this dream of buying a tiny studio apartment tucked away in a corner of some European city and furnishing it all Memphis-style, with an eclectic mix of futuristic shapes and riotous colours. It’s going to happen one day.

Historical materialism.

A/N: This is a poem I wrote for a competition at school. The themes were “light” and “red”, and of course, you know what red brings to my mind…


When the first drop of light splashed

Onto the surface of nothing

The colours parted with the whole: red, yellow, green, blue

Each became impure

And each became real


When the first flames danced

On the plains of primitiveness

They were seductresses, enticing men with their grace and their touch

Man parted with the world of animals, instinct, brutality

And learnt to be strong, to be human


When the first lightbulb was switched on

In the darkness of ignorance

Casting its mellow white glow over the mysteries of nature

They’d tell us we’d parted with ignorance, with intolerance

And we learnt this new word: modernity


But when orange tongues lick the buildings

As crowds thunder through the streets

When rifles crack and order crumbles

And the red flag of rebellion flies

They tell us this is subversion


When really it is nothing

But continuation.

Reparations and Apologies

This is the assembly I collaboratively wrote and delivered with two other students at my school last Thursday, on the subject of apologies and reparations in geopolitics, and I thought I’d re-upload it to my blog. Enjoy!


The British Empire, colonialism and the slave trade were responsible for the perpetration of a vast array of atrocities. The theft of land, livelihoods, freedoms and ancient artefacts can all be traced back to this period of history. Despite this, the West’s profit from plundering these countries is hardly mentioned in the mainstream media, yet it is pervasive in all areas of our society. This raises the question of what responsibility do those in our society today have for the pain that was caused in the past? Does this wealth need to be returned? How can one possibly make-up for the horrendous human suffering that slavery not only facilitated but established? And is there any monetary value that could apologise for this? These questions are what we will be trying to discuss in this assembly. As I am sure you can already tell, it’s a highly complicated subject with no…

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Just a child.

You’re just a child.

Your life consists of play, of colours, of innocence and trivialities

Your world is untainted by the stains of adulthood

Your days are spent creating and discovering

And ‘consequence’ means nothing to you.


You’re not afraid.

You don’t mind when reality proves an obstruction

It’s nothing to you when you get it wrong

You don’t care about how they’ll react

And you don’t just push boundaries; you ignore them.


Adults want to be you.

They picture you running through fields, free, uninhibited

They imagine your vision, creativity, lucidity

They think their lives would be better if only they were like you

And you are the alternative to their misery.


But if you’re so envied

Why is it

That you’re powerless?

Herbst in Berlin: eine Fotogalerie

Just some autumnal photos I took, using a crappy Nokia phone camera, while being very touristy in Berlin and Potsdam.