Blinded by the Light
WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2019)
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman
Boooooorn in…Faisalabad…(hey, it still fits the melody!) but made in Luton.
Ah, Luton. It’s a small town outside of London in the county of Hertfordshire best known for its hat-making trade. It has an airport called London Luton despite the fact it’s not really that close to London. That’s really about it. UNTIL NOW! Well, maybe. Blinded by the Light, the story of a young Pakistani’s coming-of-age upon hearing the music of Bruce Springsteen, is set in the town and is based on the memoir of Sarfraz Manzoor, whose life changed upon hearing the blue-collar tones of The Boss.
Set in the depressed Thatcher-led Britain of the 1980’s, Luton is a town rife with unemployment and rampant racism. The Iron Lady looms over far-right marches as her image adorns billboards claiming to bring Britain closer together. It was a bad time, it was the worst of times. No one feels this more than Javed Khan (Kalra), a Pakistani teenager entering a pivotal moment of his life – college and university – whilst living under his domineering father, Malik (Ghir). He wants to leave Luton, he wants to be a writer, he wants to escape his suffocating life and the synth-drenched music scene isn’t lifting his spirits, let alone the vile racism he faces daily. That is until schoolmate Roops (Phagura) introduces him to the music of Springsteen and, from the first listen, everything changes for the young man. It’s a coming-of-age-comedy-drama that zeroes in on the importance of music, words, and aspirations, all channelled via the lyrics of The Boss. Handily, if you aren’t big on Springsteen, important lyrics appear on-screen as if emanating from Javed’s mind, so you don’t need to mine Springsteen’s back catalogue. Chadha opts for a faux-musical style, at times the characters don’t really burst into song rather than joyfully meander through them, however, it’s that ‘J’ word that is most important – joy. There’s a real exuberance and hope that permeates the movie, even in its lowest moments. You’ll be hard-pressed not to smile as Javed serenades his school crush in a market place as the onlookers dance away or the first time he begins to succeed as a writer. However, that exuberance does bleed into mawkishness as Blinded by the Light rolls towards its conclusion and, depending on your investment in the story, the sheer obsession with The Boss began to wear thin. The cultural clashes are well-handled and Chadra lands a nice balance between humour and gravitas – there’s a hint of East is East in some of the family interactions, but in a good way.
As Javed, Viveik Kalra is a pure winner. His ability to portray sadness, hope, depression, anxiety and pure happiness is crucial to the movie and it’s a great turn in his first big outing. Kulvinder Ghir is wonderful as the overbearing, uber-strict father – providing plenty of comedy including a recurring gag regarding Jews - and Aaron Phagura’s Roops provides some fine levity also. There’s a real bounce to the performances that mirror the music and the overall feeling of the movie. It doesn’t always work though, some of the pacing is slightly awry and the idea that Javed only finds himself and happiness when he goes to America is a bit…naff. Also, I couldn’t escape the feeling that some of the subtexts could have been explored slightly deeper to maximise their impact. Compared to 2019’s most similar offering, Yesterday, Blinded by the Light does go that bit further.
At its core, Blinded by the Light is a hugely uplifting story that merges the most unlikely of worlds – the austere town of Luton, a disillusioned Pakistani teen and the blue-collar hero of America, but, it fully highlights the importance and power that music can wield. Whilst it doesn’t always hit the high notes, there’s a joyfulness that permeates the movie and delivers a winning feeling.
Also, Dancing in the Dark will never NOT be a massive tune.
September 6th 2019