Blinded by the Light is a soul-stirring journey of self expression. Set to a rocking soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen’s seventies and eighties working-class anthems. A British teen of Pakistani descent struggles against the confines of his culture and racial persecution in an economically depressed town. Equal parts fantasy musical, somber drama, and uplifting romance, director Gurinder Chadha uses creative filmmaking to explore the yearnings of the human heart. Blinded by the Light is sublimely poetic in its delivery. A terrific finale had me on the verge of tears.
Blinded by the Light takes place in 1987 Luton, England. The shy and introspective Javed (Viveik Kalra) chafes under the rules of his oppressive father (Kulvinder Ghir); who doesn’t believe Pakistanis can ever be treated equally in Britain. He wants his son to study hard and find a respectable career. Javed hides his poetry from his parents. His only freedom is writing lyrics for a friend’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) synth-pop band.
Javed is also an outcast at school. He’s spit on and targeted by local skinhead racists. A fateful encounter with Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh student, changes Javed’s life. He’s given the Bruce Springsteen albums “Born in the USA” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. The Boss addresses Javed’s innermost fears and hopes for a better life. He’s finally able to show his writings to a kind teacher (Hayley Atwell), and pursue his social activist crush (Nell Williams). Javed’s newfound liberation soon conflicts with the stark truths of his reality.
Blinded by the Light does not have a standard narrative. Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice) incorporates multiple fantasy elements to illustrate Javed’s awakening. Springsteen’s lyrics swirl around his head as he listens. Several scenes transform into music videos, where Javed and his friends race through town, or mimic other films like The Breakfast Club. Chadha employs Bollywood style filmmaking to lighten up the heavier themes. Her approach works most of the time, but admittedly gets long-winded. The song and dance numbers could have been pared down.
Blinded by the Light tells more than Javed’s story. Gurinder Chadha is masterful in her depiction of the time and place. Luton was supposed to be a step up for Javed’s family. The film explores the ramifications of job losses to the community. A faltering economy made the Pakistanis scapegoats of their disaffected neighbors. It also shows the shame Javed’s father feels as the family sinks into crushing poverty. Javed is overcome with guilt. How can he pursue lofty personal dreams when his family is suffering? Chadha is unflinching in this regard. Javed’s choices are not easy. Blinded by the Light is heartachingly dramatic.
Bruce Springsteen’s music is the fuel that powers Blinded by the Light. Songs that are considered quintessentially American have no cultural or geographical boundary. Love, loneliness, and the plight of the poor are universal to humanity. Pakistani and Sikh teenagers in England face the same problems as those in Springsteen’s hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Their openness to a different perspective led to the discovery of a kindred spirit. This is the film’s greatest lesson and desperately needed in these divisive modern times. Blinded by the Light is produced by Bend It Films and Ingenious Media with distribution from Warner Bros.
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