SINGAPORE — The year is 1987, and in the town of Luton just outside of London, the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies are being felt. For teenager Javed Khan (Viviek Kalra), struggling to find his way in a new school while adhering to his Pakistani-born father’s (Kulvinder Ghir) strict rules seem an unsurmountable obstacle.
He also has to deal with racist thugs and the danger that his best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) will soon outgrow their friendship. But then he meets Roops (Aaron Phagura), who introduces him to the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, and for the first time, Javed feels like someone is speaking directly to him about his hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, his English teacher Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell) tries to coax a more genuine, personal voice out of Javed, who proves to have a real gift when it comes to writing.
Based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park, about his own real-life fanaticism for The Boss, Blinded by the Light is at turns heartwarming, poignant, and a guilty pleasure for any fan of Springsteen or the ‘80s. Immense care has been taken by director Gurinder Chadha to recreate the look and atmosphere of a small UK town dealing with rising unemployment, as well as the tensions of an immigrant family that will be familiar to many in the audience.
Chadha is the brains behind the smash hit Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, both of which tackled similar themes and revolved around the South-Asian immigrant experience in Britain. So it’s no surprise to see her latest movie tread familiar ground here.
However, there are some instances where the fraught relationships between Javed’s family and the community will make the viewer cringe. This is not to say that the racist attitudes of local thugs are unfathomable — if anything, it should remind the audience that history has an unfortunate way of repeating itself.
But the real heart of the movie comes from Javed’s relationship with his parents, Malik and Noor (Meera Ganatra). Theirs is a story echoed by so many immigrants all over the world, especially since it touches on the universality of certain values that multiple cultures hold dear.
Blinded By The Light is by no means groundbreaking. It is at its heart a typical feel-good movie about a young man’s coming of age, along with all the sappy platitudes and big lessons that tend to be served out in this genre. What really sets it apart is how this is really a love letter not only to Springsteen, but to any music fan who finds salvation and escape in their favourite music.
Javed’s self-discovery through music is portrayed with sensitivity and sincerity by Kalra, who plays his role with all the wide-eyed wonder of youth. Even when the movie veers into camp and cheesiness, there is no denying the emotional power of Springsteen’s music and what it means to him.
This movie is a must-see for Springsteen aficionados and novices alike. It’s a story about how music can speak to you in the most intimate ways even if the artist was born thousands of miles away from you, and encapsulates all the joys and agony of growing up in trying times.
Blinded By The Light opens in cinemas 15 August, 2019.