Jess From Bend It Like Beckham Has Grown Up To Be Stunning

Bend It Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha’s romantic comedy about a young London woman, the daughter of Punjabi Sikhs, obsessed with becoming a footballer despite her family’s protestations, was an iconic film of the early 00s. Though on paper it never looked like it would go on to be the word-of-mouth success that it turned out to be.

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A picture directed by a virtual unknown, with no real stars and made for just £3.7 million, Bend It Like Beckham went on to be a surprise box office success, taking $76 million worldwide and garnering positive reviews from critics.

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Landing attention at home and in the US, the film was ultimately nominated for Best Film at both the BAFTAs and Golden Globes.

That’s right – though it might seem like the film was released only yesterday to some of us, Bend It Like Beckham is old enough now to be the subject of anniversary screenings.

It’s been 16 years since the movie was first released, and, of course, the cast members have predictably gone through enormous changes since then.

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The most obvious change has been the uptick in fame for every actor involved. Back in 2002, when Bend It Like Beckham was first released, its cast was relatively little-known. Many of the stars of the film have, however, since gone on to flourish in Hollywood.

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Without further ado, we take a look at where the cast Bend It Like Beckham are now, and have a glance at what they’ve been up to since they first broke out in their accidental hit movie.

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1. Keira Knightley (Jules Paxton)

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Playing tomboy Jules in Bend It Like Beckham, it’s strange to see such a young Keira Knightley in the film, especially since she soon after earned worldwide recognition and success, going on to be a key player in Hollywood and featuring in many box office successes.

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In Bend It Like Beckham, Knightley was still a jobbing young actress (only 16 when the film shot) trying to break into the mainstream.

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And since then? Well, you more than likely know the story already. After Bend It Like Beckham brought her Hollywood attention, Knightley’s profile skyrocketed, with star turns in Love Actually, Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and of course the Pirates of the Caribbean movies all following hot on the heels of her 2002 breakout.

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Today, at 33, Knightley is married to Klaxons musician James Righton, with whom she has one child. Though she has continued to make appearances post-Pirates of the Caribbean in blockbusters such as Everest, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and a fifth Pirates movie, Knightley today is best known for her work in acclaimed indie productions such as The Imitation Game and A Dangerous Method.

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2. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Joe)

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Back when the film first came out, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was the only member of the Bend It Like Beckham cast who could legitimately call themselves anything like a ‘star’.

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Already, Meyers had landed attention-grabbing roles in Ride With the Devil and Velvet Goldmine, for which he was nominated for British Newcomer of the Year by the London Critics Circle.

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Bend It Like Beckham, however, proved Meyers’ biggest hit to date, and it gave him a career boost that he capitalised on immediately. Meyers followed Beckham with blockbuster roles in Alexander, Mission Impossible III and Match Point. Even bigger, however, was his lead in The Tudors as King Henry VIII.

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Since The Tudors ended in 2010, Meyers’ career has flagged, which can partly be attributed to problems in his personal life. Meyers followed a period in rehab for alcoholism in 2007 with another in 2010, but his public battle with alcohol has only continued. Now 40, he has a son with Mara Lane, whom he married in 2016.

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3. Archie Panjabi (Pinky Bhamra)

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Like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Archie Panjabi had already experienced success prior to Bend It Like Beckham – she featured in East Is East, another surprise British hit released three years prior – but nothing compared to the career she would have post-Beckham.

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After her supporting turn in the 2002 film, Panjabi would take a number of high-profile film and TV roles, in the likes of The Constant Gardener and A Mighty Heart, before finally taking a lead role in CBS legal drama The Good Wife, in which Panjabi starred from 2009 to 2015. For this, Panjabi got herself an Emmy award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010.

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Now 46, Panjabi remains happily married to Rajesh Nihalani, to whom she has been married since 1998. She has recently had another regular US series role, in NBC’s crime drama Blindspot, but earlier this year Panjabi returned to British television, starring in ITV miniseries Next of Kin alongside Jack Davenport.

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4. Ameet Chana (Tony)

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Before Bend It Like Beckham, Ameet Chana struggled to find work beyond bit-parts in TV comedies like The League of Gentlemen, with an obligatory cameo in The Bill thrown in for good measure.

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With his role as the closeted best friend to Jess in Beckham, however, Chana finally got his foot in the door.

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After Bend It Like Beckham, Chana became a regular on Eastenders, being introduced in 2003 as Adi, part of the new Ferreira family. Unfortunately, this proved short-lived: in 2005, after criticism from fans, the entire family was axed, and Chana was left adrift again.

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Chana has since made fleeting appearances in feature comedies including Run, Fatboy, Run and Cash and Curry, but acting-wise his career has somewhat stalled.

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Chana can now more commonly be found on radio, hosting for the BBC Asian Network or Sunrise Radio. Chana married barrister and actress Shikha Varma in 2006.

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5. Shaznay Lewis (Mel Goines)

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By the time she starred in Bend It Like Beckham, Shaznay Lewis had already experienced her share of fame in Britain. Until 2001, the year Beckham went before cameras, Lewis was a member of All Saints, the BRIT Award-winning girl group behind songs like Never Ever and Pure Shores.

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By 2001 however, All Saints had split, and Lewis was branching out. This included an acting part in Bend It Like Beckham, as Mel, and an attempt to make a solo career, with her debut album arriving in 2004. After Lewis married in 2004 and had her first child in 2006, however, Lewis appeared to put her career temporarily on hold.

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Now a 42-year-old mother of two, Lewis has recently dipped her toes back into the music world. She now writes for other artists, with her roster including Little Mix and Westlife, and has recently toured and released a new album with the reformed All Saints.

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6. Anupam Kher (Mohaan Singh Bhamra)

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For years before Bend It Like Beckham, Indian actor Anupam Kher had been widely celebrated in his home country.

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As a Bollywood actor, Kher was a regular award winner: he broke the record when he won Filmfare’s Best Comedian award five years in a row and had already won the National Film Award – India’s highest accolade for feature films – in 1990 for the film Daddy.

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It was his role as Jess’ father in Bend It Like Beckham (along with a role in Beckhma director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice) that brought Kher international recognition for the first time, however.

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He has continued to act in the kind of Hindi films that made his name back home, but numerous roles in British and American productions have also followed the 2002 film.

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Since Bend It Like Beckham, Kher has featured in The Big Sick, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook. He also in 2004 made a one-episode cameo on ER, playing the father of Dr Neela Rasgotra, the character played by his Bend It Like Beckham ‘daughter’ Parminder Nagra.

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7. Juliet Stevenson (Paula Paxton)

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Already known to British audiences by the time Bend It Like Beckham came her way for Truly Madly Deeply and 1996 Jane Austen adaptation Emma, Juliet Stevenson established herself as a regular British character actress with her supporting turn as the judgmental mother to Keira Knightley’s Jules.

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After Beckham, Stevenson took supporting roles in films including Mona Lisa Smile, Infamous and Breaking and Entering.

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 She could also be found on the small screen in Atlantis, The Hour and The Enfield Haunting.

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These days, Stevenson is back on the stage, making waves where she first started her career. Last year she featured in Hamlet, while currently she can be seen reprising the title role in Mary Stuart. Stevenson has two children with Hugh Brody, her partner since 1993, with whom she lives in London.

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8. Frank Harper (Alan Paxton)

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First coming to attention as gangsters and various other dangerous men in the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the Shane Meadows films Twenty Four Seven and A Room For Romeo Brass, the role of father to Knightley’s Jules in Bend It Like Beckham served to bring Frank Harper to new heights.

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After Beckham, Harper took his highest-profile role to date, as the mentor to Danny Dyer’s young football hooligan in Nick Love’s The Football Factory.

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 He also made a memorable cameo in Shane Meadows’ This Is England as a British white nationalist recruiter.

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Since that career peak, Harper has very much remained in his wheelhouse of playing hard men in small roles for indie films and TV, though to less fanfare. He made his last appearances in the TV shows Ripper Street and House of Fools, but hasn’t acted since 2014.

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9. Kulvinder Ghir (Teetu)

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Already familiar to fans of the cult BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me, which ran from 1998 to 2001, Kulvinder Ghir had prior to playing the new husband to Jess’ sister Pinky in Bend It Like Beckham also made a scene-stealing appearance in Alan Clarke’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too!.

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Following his Bend It Like Beckham appearance, Ghir had a brief crack at Hollywood, appearing as Taj’s father in the comedy Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. Otherwise, Ghir has remained firmly part of the British light entertainment landscape.

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Now 52, Ghir has become a fixture in British TV, lately starring in Still Open All Hours since 2013 and taking voice roles in children’s shows Postman Pat and Bob the Builder. He also joined Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia in two Goodness Gracious Me specials in 2014 and 2015.

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10. Nina Wadia (Wedding Caterer)

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Like her Goodness Gracious Me co-star Kulvinder Ghir, only appearing in little more than a cameo in Bend It Like Beckham – she plays Wedding Caterer in the film – Nina Wadia has since the 2002 movie gone from strength to strength as a TV star.

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Wadia post-Beckham made appearances in The Bill, Holby City and Skins, but her most prominent featured role came in Eastenders, in which she played a main part from 2007 to 2013, as businesswoman Zainab Masood.

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Since 2013, Wadia has reunited with Kulvinder Ghir on those Goodness Gracious Me specials as well as in Still Open All Hours, in which she has appeared as Mrs Hussein from the show’s 2013 debut onwards. She has been married to the composer Raiomond Mirza since 1998.

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11. Parminder Nagra (Jess Bhamra)

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And finally…

Leicester girl Parminder Nagra had landed parts in TV and movies before – there were appearances in long-running BBC drama Casualty and culture clash comedy Goodness Gracious Me – but securing the lead role in Bend It Like Beckham took her career to a whole other level.

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For Beckham, Nagra was nominated for Best Newcomer at both the Empire Awards and the British Independent Film Awards, but her biggest prize was arguably the main role she landed on the lauded US medical drama ER in 2003. It was a part she held for six years, making her one of the longest-serving members of the cast.

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Since then, though taking a few parts here and there in film, Nagra has mostly stuck to television. Since ER ended its lengthy run in 2009, Nagra has found herself becoming a regular on numerous US TV dramas, including The Blacklist, Agents of SHIELD and 13 Reasons Why. Nagra, now 42, has one child with her ex-husband James Stenson.