Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Blinded by the Light

Lydia Hallsworth evaluates the new film by Gurinder Chadha and the relevance of the racism it tackles

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Image Credit: Image: Warner Bros Studios

8/10

Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura
Length: 117 mins
Rating: PG-13

Blinded by the Light is set in 1987 and invites us into the life of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British Pakistani teen growing up in Luton. The film explores Javed’s attempts to cope with social pressures at school and a controlling father (Kulvinder Ghir) at home whilst trying to cultivate his own identity. This journey of self-discovery is sparked by his schoolmate Roops (Aaron Phagura), introducing him to the music of ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen.

The film is directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham; Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) and maintains her notorious high standard for coming of age stories. The prevalence of 1980s Luton as a setting is also particularly well executed and racist incidents such as a National Front march, or a group of children urinating through the door of Javed’s family are handled sensitively with an effect that is particularly touching and raw. With resurgences in hate crime being a very contemporary issue, Blinded by the Light is timely and reminds audiences how mindlessly cruel people can be, and the devastating effects of intolerance.

The film is well acted with a shining performance from the relatively unknown Kalra. The supporting cast were also authentically portrayed, and although there were occasional hints of a Welsh accent, Rob Brydon’s cameo as the father of one of Javed’s friends added entertainment value. Brydon in real life is a huge Springsteen fan and his casting encapsulates the vibe of the film as a beacon of hyperbolic appreciation for Springsteen and general joy in celebrating music as a means of escape.

Unlike when I viewed the recent releases of Bohemian Rhapsody; featuring the music of Queen, and Rocketman; an Elton John biopic, I knew very little about the influence of Bruce Springsteen and could hum only one or two of his hits. This did not at all impact my enjoyment of the film, in fact, having my first experience of manic fandom for Springsteen’s lyrics via the medium of Blinded by the Light provided a detached perspective as to how intensely and personally the words of an artist can affect individuals who subscribe to them. Springsteen is revered so highly in the film, that it is almost comical, but in a way that makes you wish you were sharing in the musical enlightenment within the world of the film. As an audience, it is easy to empathise with the idea of a musician expressing emotions that you struggle to articulate, and Javed’s coming-of-age moment in the middle of a literal thunderstorm fits this ‘eureka’ moment perfectly.

Though this scene worked particularly pertinently, a later use of Springsteen’s lyrics in the song Thunder Road fell slightly flat. For a film that expressed the importance of music to an individual as ‘a direct line to all that is true in this shitty world’, it was jarring to have a big musical number dancing in the street with strangers, in an environment more reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard than industrial Luton. It was still enjoyable to watch and certainly not a bad section of the film, it just felt a bit ‘off’. The film had a couple of these moments that felt slightly out of line with the rest of the message of the narrative, perhaps as a result of the screenplay being adapted from real memoirs, and transferred into an on-screen world by an established director with their own vision.

The journey of the story to screen is a bit of a fantasy in itself, with Chandra getting the go ahead to use Springsteen’s music after approaching him personally at a film screening in 2010 and explaining her desire to use Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoirs. Before making the film, Manzoor had seen Springsteen perform over 150 times, as well as waited numerous hours outside hotels and arenas for photo opportunities with his favourite artist. The scene in which Javed is handed a Bruce Springsteen cassette reflects a moment that really happened and Manzoor remains friends with Amolak, the real life Roops who introduced him to the music, to this day.

With no real big name actors, I’m afraid this film may end up largely unseen. If, like me, you enjoy films with a focus on a personal story rather than those that flaunt a large budget, Blinded by the Light is certainly worth a watch and its exploration of identity and acceptance is both moving and entertaining. Either way, like Keira  Knightly after Bend it Like Beckham, the career of lead actor, Viveik Kalra, is undoubtably born to run to high
places from here.

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