Blinded by the Light, 2019.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha.
Starring Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Hayley Atwell, Aaron Phagura, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Frankie Fox, Rob Brydon, Nikita Mehta, Tara Divina, and Sally Phillips.
In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Looking back, 2019 has been a year highlighted by musical dramas. Whether it is biopics like Rocketman or The Beatles tribute Yesterday, there have have a few films based around some of the most prolific musicians of the last 50 years. Where Blinded by the Light separates itself from the pack is how the film doesn’t focus on Bruce Springsteen, but instead the impact his music makes on a young fan people would think would be the last person to listen to The Boss. Directed by Bend It Like Bekham‘s Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light is a nice coming of age tale focusing on the balance people face between their family and discovering their own voice with Springsteen’s classic music as a backdrop to the protagonist’s journey.
Based on the youth of journalist Safraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light focuses on Javed, a teenager whose family immigrated to the UK from Pakistan but finds himself clashing with his love of music, dreams of being a writer and his generation’s culture in the 80s against the traditional upbringing and beliefs his father holds their family to. It is not until he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen that he begins to discover his voice as he identifies with Springsteen’s lyrics about growing up and the struggles of the working class. Through Springsteen, he becomes more comfortable with who he is and carving out his own place in his family and society.
Viviek Kalra gives a very good and earnest performance as Javed, making him a relatable character as he confronts the cultural differences between his family and friends. The transition between Javed’s introverted and unsure nature to one bounding with confidence and creativity is well played by Kalra. He doesn’t overdo Javed’s awkwardness, but makes the transformation feel natural and is captivating throughout the course of the film. Despite the cultural differences that may arise between he and the audience, one of the strengths of Blinded by the Light is making his journey a universal one as he tries finding his own place in the world, a journey Kalra embodies with ease. His chemistry with Nell Williams’ Eliza, Javed’s high school love, or Hayley Atwell’s literature teacher is quite strong, but the real highlight is the work between him and Kulvinder Ghir, Javed’s father Malik. Their connection is the heart of the film with Kalra and Ghir making you feel the deepening chasm between them as Malik tires to keep Javed within their traditions and telling him he’ll never truly be accepted by anyone outside their community. There are some pretty powerful moments which makes you understand both of their positions throughout the film, though it obviously skewers more to Javed’s perspective.
And of course, the music of Bruce Springsteen is pretty much a character itself throughout the story as it inspires Javed at various points. The film is a love letter to Springsteen and his fans, focusing on how, despite being one of the world’s biggest rock stars, what has kept him so popular is his ability to connect with the working class and regular folk. As much as Javed, his friend Roops or others love Bruce, their focus is more on Bruce’s lyrics and music, examining the power of his words. One of the biggest themes is actually how words, whether they’re in a song, poem, book or spray-painted on walls, can affect people in a number of ways. The personal connection to Javed’s creativity strengthens this theme and it’s impossible not to come away with several Springsteen songs stuck in your head.
Gurinder Chadha’s direction gives the film a brisk pacing. Nothing feels out of place or like it shouldn’t be there as her focus remains on Javed, his family and Springsteen’s music. She even stretches the film’s genre at certain points towards becoming a musical, such as when Javed first hears ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘The Promised Land’ with the lyrics swirling around his head, serenading Eliza in front of a large crowd or his run through their hometown to ‘Born to Run’. These choices don’t feel forced nor do the movements back to realism feel jarring. It makes for a pretty entertaining piece that hammers home Springsteen’s lyrical magic.
Included on the blu-ray is a collection of deleted and extended scenes that don’t add too much to the narrative. There’s nothing in them that makes you want to see them added back into the film, though they’re still entertaining to watch. The big features are two specials, ‘Memoir to Movie’ and ‘The Most Crazy Thing’, that focus on the inspiration behind Javed, writer Safraz Manzoor and how he wrote about his youth and love of Springsteen in a memoir that is the basis of Blinded by the Light. They’re pretty insightful pieces into the making of the film, such as Chadha and Manzoor getting Springsteen’s blessing on the movie (including the cool fact he read Manzoor’s memoir long before they approached him) and the making of the film. There’s some talk about the song choices in Springsteen’s vast library (even in 1987), casting Kalra to the practice of the film’s numbers. Manzoor also discusses how his relationship with his father impacted the film, who he revealed passed away shortly before the release of his memoir. These features expand how personal the film feels while also being a love letter to Springsteen and his music.
Blinded by the Light is an entertaining, fun and personal film with a great cast led by Kalra. Chadra’s direction and Manzoor’s writing are crisp with its relatability and clear admiration for Springsteen. Even if you’re not a fan of The Boss, Blinded by the Light speaks to a universal love of music and discovering your own identity that anyone can empathize with. The blu-ray features are insightful into the work behind the film as well as the team’s nervousness at honouring Springsteen’s songs. Anyone who likes him or music will connect with the film’s message and find it an enjoyable watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★