When Bend It Like Beckham headed the net for movie fans, promotion of its stars to a new league of fame and fortune seemed like a certainty.
Keira Knightley, who once played a football-mad teenager, has become the top star of the tournament with two Oscar nominations.
And Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who served as Joe’s coach, is another big winner.
But what about Parminder Nagra, who plays Jess Bhamra’s central character, a young girl who dreams of more than she’s allowed to expect?
Her role has inspired a generation of young British South Asian women to aim high and follow their dreams.
The footie film, which has grossed more than £60 million at the box office, is 20 years old. Since then, in terms of leading roles, Parminder has been left on the bench.
But that’s all about to change as she’s the star of ITV’s new crime drama, DI Ray, produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. She plays DI Rachita Ray, a detective investigating a murder that has drawn her deep into Birmingham’s criminal underworld.
Christine Parry / Bend It / Film Council / Kobal / REX / Shutterstock)
REX / Shutterstock)
In a way, that’s the role the Leicester-born 46-year-old has been waiting for all his life.
“It’s a really solid, meaty, all-round character, which I guess every actor looks for,” she said. I don’t get that opportunity often. And to get that is huge, huge. I’m so grateful.”
In the end, Parminder, a native of Punjabi, India, feels she is one step closer to achieving her dream.
“You don’t often get an Asian female lead on TV – that’s starting to happen more and more, but having been in the business for so long, I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time,” she said. .
“I can see the change with people like Bridgerton but, at DI Ray, this is my generation of women. We’re in Birmingham, and it’s easy to understand.
“That’s the main attraction for me – I’m not playing someone’s best friend or a supporting character. It’s all about Rachita. ”
Parminder has been busy since Bend It Like Beckham and in 2003 she landed the role of Doctor Neela Rasgotra in the hit American medical drama ER, which made stars like George Clooney and Julianna Margulies.
Parminder remained in the series, which was set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles, until its conclusion in 2009.
Parminder continues to call LA her home, living in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Laurel Canyon with her 12-year-old son Kai.
He was born shortly after her marriage to film photographer James Stenson, celebrated by her ER co-star Maura Tierney.
But a 4-year marriage ended in a bitter divorce.
These days Kai is the main man in her life and giving him a stable life is her top priority – alongside spending time with her two dogs, Willow and Luna.
She says her life is like any other working mother and describes LA as really “not as polished.” She said: “I’m doing the same thing I would if I were in the UK .”
But the actress made the most of the LA outdoor lifestyle and kept in shape by hiking.
And, like most expats in the City of Angels, she has her well-supported network of friends, who include British actors, Spooks star Lara Pulver and her husband Raza Jaffrey.
Since ER, Parminder has had many roles on big-name shows like The Blacklist and Agents of SHIELD but has mostly played parts that depend on her ethnicity.
In 2018, she was cast as a doctor in the Netflix series Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. It required her to play the character with an Indian accent.
Incidentally, that same year, Keira starred in the critically acclaimed Colette, playing a French writer – with an English accent.
“I’m not thrilled to be playing the doctor again,” Parminder said.
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“But it’s a great work with a great director, and that’s Sandra Bullock. I don’t want to be accented. It’s hard.
“Sometimes the doctor role comes up, and you want to say no, but you want to work.”
On-screen diversity has improved but Parminder recently questioned whether, in many cases, it was simply an exercise in “checking the box” and recalling an incident when her agent He offered her a role and the reply was “they had an Indian on the cast. ”
Parminder added: “I said, ‘Yes, but I’m completely different from that person. Will that ever happen when you say, “No, we had a white person on the show”? “
There are signs of a positive change. Parminder cites the recent success of Riz Ahmed and Priyanka Chopra as starring in major shows.
Finally it was Parminder’s turn. Since the setting for DI Ray was Birmingham right down the road from Leicester, there were a few extra bonuses.
She explains: “I can drive my car after work and drive to my mom to buy some home-cooked food, which is lovely. My niece had just been born so I had to meet and hold her too. I don’t have a physical home in the UK, but my family is there so it feels like home.
“And my character is from Leicester so I can keep my accent. In other roles, I have to do RP [received pronunciation]. It is very free. ”
The film has all the hallmarks of a Jed Mercurio production – thrilling high-speed chases, siege breakers, shocking plot twists and plenty of police procedural jargon. But this whodunnit, penned by Birmingham-born writer and Line of Duty actress Maya Sondhi, shares the same theme as Beckham-like Bend It.
Maya, of Line of Duty’s Maneet Bindra, was inspired to write about her experiences as a Brummie woman of Asian descent.
Parminder said: “One day I want to play a character who doesn’t think about her identity – Bend It Like Beckham also talks about her identity. But those parts are really hard to find or not made very often.
“DI Ray is well written, Rachita’s interactions with people are really great and I love playing a strong 40-year-old woman on the show.”
When asked about the character, Parminder said: “You have to fight for your corner. It all comes down to your sense of self-worth and what you believe in. “
DI Ray airs next Monday to Thursday at 9pm on ITV
https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/bend-like-beckham-star-parminder-26826903 Bend It Like Beckham Parminder star Nagra to play main character in new series DI Ray