October Issue 2019
Film Review: Blinded by the Light
Gurinder Chadha and journalist Sarfaraz Mehmood had for years planned on turning the latter’s book Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock n’ Roll into a film but their plan never materialised. At least not until Brexit, when all of Mehmood’s experiences during the Thatcher-era Britain became all too real once again.
Chadha’s latest directorial venture, Blinded by the Light, tells the story of a young Muslim boy born to Pakistani parents, trying to navigate his way through life during a time of economic uncertainty and severe racial tension. British Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra) lives with his parents and two older sisters in Luton, England. About to start high school, Javed is what the kids would call a loner and, by default, an outsider. He occasionally writes poetry, and is in constant conflict with his conservative parents who insist that he pursue a more conventional career path. Javed struggles to fit in; he neither sees himself as completely British nor does he identify with his fiercely Pakistani family, until one day a friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, completely changing his life.
In a scene where Javed listens to his first Springsteen song, he is transported into a different world as the song lyrics appear in front of him. Javed forms an instant connection with Springsteen and his music, seeing his struggles in the musician’s words and relating to it more than he ever could to the Pakistani music his father devoutly listens to. Springsteen’s music encourages Javed to follow his dreams, and the teenager embarks on a journey of self-discovery, with the musician influencing every aspect of Javed’s life.
As Javed begins to understand Springsteen’s lyrics more deeply, the world around him begins to change, both literally and figuratively. The film’s conflict explores the teenager’s dilemma of choosing between his dream or being a dutiful son to his family during times of severe economic difficulty.
Kalra as an awkward and shy teenager is believably admirable; the scenes where he goes through a transformation after discovering Springsteen’s music are filled with youthful energy. There are moments where Springsteen’s music becomes the score to Javed’s life; in other sequences the film turns into a musical as Javed, Eliza, Javed’s new girlfriend and recent Springsteen convert, and Roop, the Sikh class fellow who introduced Javed to Bruce, dance to ‘Born to Run’ through the city. It is unapologetically corny and all the more endearing for it.
Blinded by the Light is about Springsteen, says Chadha and if you aren’t already a fan, chances are you will find yourself becoming one by the time the film reaches its climax. The film also comes at an opportune time, especially since the xenophobia and the racial tensions of ’80s England are resurfacing today, and although it is set in a different time, it is for this reason that the film resonates.
Blinded by the Light is essentially a story of hope, and of discovering oneself through music. It is also a story about the ties that bind us, of acceptance and of understanding. A theme that perfectly manifests itself through Javed’s father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) ,who is initially shown as a typical Pakistani father who refuses to change his ways, but as the film dives more into Javed’s journey of self-discovery, it also explores Malik’s struggles – the sacrifices he made and the life he left behind.
Chadha masterfully mixes witty humour, emotions and messages of social justice, activism and acceptance to make an emotional and entertaining film that successfully manages to hit all the right notes.