Bend It Like Beckham 16:9 assetGetty/GOAL

'David Beckham broke his foot!' - How 'Bend It Like Beckham' defied the odds to be a success

“I’ve never pursued something like I pursued this job,” Shaheen Khan tells GOAL.

The actress did not even know that much about the film that Gurinder Chadha was making, but she knew she wanted to be in it.

They had worked together before on ‘Bhaji on the Beach’, and Khan had enjoyed working under the director so much that, “whatever she was doing, I wanted to be involved in it”.

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When the pair crossed paths one lunchtime, Khan casually asked if there was anything Chadha was working on. “She said, 'I am actually doing something, but you're too old for one part, and you're too young for the other',” she remembers.

So began a long process of preparing, pleading and persuading the director otherwise in order to land the role as Jesminder’s mother in 'Bend It Like Beckham', the 2002 film about a girl defying her parents’ wishes to play football that blew up in a way that no one could have imagined.

Craig Pruess’ introduction to the project was a little different. Overseeing the music, he too had worked with Chadha before, and the pair were preparing to film ‘the Mistress of Spices’ at the time.

“Johnny Depp was poised to do it and they were all getting quite excited about it,” he recalls.

“I remember [Chadha] called me up and she said, 'Well, we're not going to do Mistress of Spices now. We're going to do a football film'. And I said, 'Oh, okay. That's unexpected'. She laughed and said, 'Okay, yes, it is'.

“When we were working on it, none of us had any idea it'd be so massive. We just had a good time making it. A great cast, a lot of jokes in the script and they pulled it off.”

When it was released, it was No.1 at the box office in the United Kingdom. It stayed there for 13 weeks. It was No.1 in India, Australia, South Africa. In the United States, it went to No.7, competing with blockbuster films that had budgets way beyond the £3.7m ($6m) Bend It Like Beckham did.

That it grossed $104.6m (£73.6m) showed the success.

It was the day of the premiere that those involved got a sense of this looming triumph. Before the red carpet event, something happened that would give the film huge publicity.

“David Beckham broke his foot!” Pruess remembers. “The Daily Mail had a huge front page banner, 'Mend It Like Beckham'. We're all kidding each other, saying, 'They're going to accuse us of arranging David Beckham to break his foot for publicity for the film!’”

It wasn’t the broken foot of England’s most famous footballer that made this film a success, though.

In its content, it was ground-breaking. Female empowerment was not a common theme in film back in 2002, and neither was women playing sports, particularly a sport such as football - to this day viewed in a masculine way.

David Beckham Craig Pruess gfx 1:1Getty/GOAL

Further to that, the lead role was played by Parminder Nagra, a British actress of Indian descent, with director Chadha renowned for showing what life is like for Indian women growing up in England through her films.

It was a film that was successful largely due to the collaborative effort of those involved, too.

“When I read the script, there wasn't a lot for the mum on the page, I didn't think,” Khan remembers. “I just felt there was something missing for me as an actor to make her believable.

“I remember one day, they were lighting the set in Jesminder's bedroom and I was sitting with Anupam [Kher, who played Jesminder's father]. I just started improvising. As actors, you just do. You play. You have fun.

“I was just saying, 'Oh, where did we go wrong' sort of thing. 'We've given her everything. Look at this and that' - and Gurinder was listening. She said: 'We're going to shoot that improv’.

“For me, in the film, that gives the mother and the father a little bit more depth that I really felt I needed. I was really happy with my contribution in making this woman not just a nag bag mum, but whatever she does comes out of huge love for her child.”

Pruess’ musical collaborations included one within his family, when his son, 15 years old at the time, stepped in to play a guitar solo for one song. The number at the very end of the film, a rework of a Hindi pop song, was special too.

Parminder Nagra Keira Knightley Sepp Blatter 2002Getty/GOAL

“Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra came down to my house, to the studio there, and sang backing vocals with Gurinder and Paul, Gurinder’s husband,” Pruess remembers.

“Keira Knightley came and she's 17 years old. None of us knew she was going to be an A-List Hollywood actress one day. She came in and says, 'Oh, look it's so cool, a recording studio'. She came in a long Afghan coat, so enthusiastic, you know? 'How cool is this?'

“They were up for anything, and it really helped make both their careers, that film.”

As well as helping to launch Nagra and Knightley, the legacy of 'Bend It Like Beckham' lives on in many ways. It became a musical on the West End and is a cult classic, a film that even Arsenal and England forward Nikita Parris has cited as having a huge influence on her.

“If people realise who I am, then there is this really bizarre thing which I can't understand,” Khan explains. “Excitement to the point where sometimes I've had younger actresses or people saying, 'I'm going to phone my sister because she loves that film and can you just say hello to her or say that line'. They remember the lines better than I do now!”

If one thing does disappoint looking back, though, it is that the representation and diversity it added to the mainstream industry has not continued as it should have.

This was a breakthrough film. It was a film with themes that resonated with millions of people who were all different in many ways. Yet, how many mainstream films since have had this sort of representation? “This is, for me, is the worrying thing at the moment,” Khan admits.

Twenty years on, this is still a film that is relevant. It is still a film that amuses, inspires and empowers. It is a film that has a deservedly wonderful legacy – and one which deserves for that that legacy to continue to grow and live on in even bigger ways.