'Blinded by the Light' is an uplifting film with a powerful message

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'Blinded by the Light' directed by Gurinder Chadha
Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema's drama, 'Blinded by the Light,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)

There's a scene in the new film Blinded by the Light when the protagonist drops an unsolicited essay about Bruce Springsteen on the desk of his school's newspaper editor. "Nobody listens to Springsteen these days," the editor says dismissively. "He's history."

It's a line that drips with dramatic irony, because the story surrounding it — set in 1987 and revolving around Springsteen's music — absolutely resounds in 2019.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) and based on Sarfraz Manzoor's memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N' Roll, Blinded By the Light follows Javed, a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in Luton, England, a large town about 30 miles northwest of London known for its multi-ethnic population, including a large South Asian community. Javed (played by the outstanding Viveik Kalra) is a talented and aspiring yet unproved writer who struggles to find his voice. Meanwhile, he struggles with his identity. Javed feels British, but as the son of immigrants, he also feels the tug of his Pakistani parents' culture. At school, he's not sure where he fits in. And when it comes to musical taste, Javed seems indifferent to the new wave, new romantics, post-punk and pop music enjoyed by his teenage peers; Javed's best friend Matt (Game of Thrones' Dean-Charles Chapman) notably insists, "Synths are the future."

At school, Javed literally bumps into Roops (Aaron Phagura), a classmate who is Sikh and is a Bruce Springsteen fan. Roops encourages a skeptical Javed to listen to Bruce. When Javed finally acquiesces, Chadha's depiction of Javed's discovery of Springsteen's music plays out beautifully: an incoming thunderstorm provides natural correspondence as "Dancing in the Dark" and "The Promised Land" ring in Javed's headphones, while the song's lyrics — artfully animated titles superimposed on screen — swirl in captivating loops, imprinting themselves in Javed's youthful brain, transforming him and empowering him to pursue his dreams.

Aaron Phagura in Blinded by the Light
Aaron Phagura as Roops in New Line Cinema's inspirational drama Blinded by the Light, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)

The plot is complicated when Javed's family fall on financial hard times, and their situation is exacerbated by the pernicious presence of racists. Although Blinded By The Light contains very few instances of swear words, there is frequent use of a racial slur: in verbal insults, in graffiti, on placards and chants by fascist National Front marchers, even by a group of children who urinate in the mail slot of a Pakistani family's home. Through it all, Javed finds refuge and courage in the music of Bruce Springsteen; he discovers his voice, and he meets new friends and allies along the way.

Naturally, the message and themes of Blinded by the Light go far beyond music. There's the universal generation gap between parents and children. That gap is often accentuated in immigrant families, which Chadha depicts in Blinded by the Light with the same empathy and heart as she did in Bend It Like Beckham. It's not brutal as in Damian O'Donnell's 1999 film, East Is East, nor is it as lighthearted as in the excellent contemporary CBC comedy Kim's Convenience (available in the U.S.on Netflix). Blinded by the Light lands somewhere between those poles.

Meanwhile, Chadha pulls no punches in depicting the ugliness and the damaging impacts of racism and xenophobia, the film's scenes of which unfortunately could be lifted from today's news as much as from Blinded by the Light's 1987 diegesis. At the same time, we also see the ways love, acceptance and a sense of community stand in opposition to the dark forces of hatred, making Blinded by the Light all the more relevant in 2019.

Director Gurinder Chadha on the set of Blinded by the Light
Director Gurinder Chadha on the set of New Line Cinema's inspirational drama Blinded by the Light, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)

For lovers of Springsteen's music, Blinded by the Light provides far more than teases of your favorite songs. The film is replete with the Boss's tunes (it credits 17 of them), and when Javed and Roops pull a prank that combines their school's radio station and P.A. system with Bruce's "Born to Run," what transpires is a Bollywood-inspired music-and-dance sequence that showcases the entire song. (Springsteen himself gave Chadha his stamp of approval before and after seeing the film.)

Blinded by the Light is a beautiful and uplifting film with a powerful message. It's richly layered, just like a Bruce Springsteen song. And it leaves a lingering question: Do we choose the music we love, or does it choose us? Like so many other circumstances in life, it may be more the latter, and Chadha asserts that what we do with it is up to us.

Blinded by the Light opens Friday, Aug. 16, and is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.

Official Trailer

External Link

Blinded by the Light - official site

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  • 'Blinded by the Light' directed by Gurinder Chadha
    Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema's inspirational drama 'Blinded by the Light,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)
  • 'Blinded by the Light' directed by Gurinder Chadha
    Aaron Phagura as Roops, Nell Williams as Eliza and Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema's inspirational drama 'Blinded by the Light,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)
  • 'Blinded by the Light' directed by Gurinder Chadha
    Viveik Kalra as Javed and Nell Williams as Eliza in New Line Cinema's inspirational drama 'Blinded by the Light,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Nick Wall)
  • 'Blinded by the Light' directed by Gurinder Chadha
    'Blinded by the Light' poster (Warner Bros. Pictures)