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Blinded by the Light (2019) Film Review

Gurinder Chadhra’s Springsteen-inspired Blinded by the Light a wildly entertaining, inspiring, much needed film about “the best of human values”.

It was 1987 when a young, Luton-based British Pakistani teenager was introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and it was 2007 when, many concerts later, that very same teenager – who had, by then, become a successful author-journalist – wrote a book about the many ways in which “The Boss” changed his life. But when Sarfraz Manzoor published “Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock n’ Roll“, little did he know that Springsteen himself would not only read his book, but also find it so “beautiful” to give his blessing for an acclaimed director to turn Manzoor’s book into a film. The director was lifelong Bruce fan and multi-award winner (Bend It Like Beckham) Gurinder Chadha, and the result was Blinded by the Light, the film we didn’t know we needed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Co-written by Manzoor himself, Blinded by the Light is set in 1987 Luton, a town about 30 miles northwest of London that was recently named the worst place to live in the U.K., and our leading character is Javed (Vivek Kalra), a teenager who tries his best to find his place in a world where “no one’s allowed opinions except his dad”.

The Javed we see at the beginning of this film is an insecure boy whose attempts to be heard are overshadowed by his family’s expectations and his only friend’s own ambitions. The only way he knows how to escape a world that seems to reject him is through his poetry, but he still struggles to stay in control of his emotions as his life becomes more frustrating by the day. But it’s when a new classmate (Roops, played by Aaron Phagura) hands him two tapes of “The Boss” that everything changes.”Thank me later”, Roops says, knowingly, and Javed’s real journey begins.

“Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt! Everything I’ve ever wanted!” exclaims a much different Javed a few scenes later. Which is also when we realise that we have completely fallen in love with this heartwarming film and its likeable protagonist. After all, who can’t relate with the feeling of pure happiness and relief that comes with the discovery of a song that seems to have been written especially for us? Sure, perhaps the songwriter had meant something else all along, but when you’re a teenager who’s desperately looking for understanding, that one song can not only make a difference but turn your whole world around.

Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, and Viveik Kalra in Blinded by the Light
Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, and Viveik Kalra in Blinded by the Light (Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

And so Javed’s experiences merge with our own memories, our smiles get wider and, at times, we even get a little emotional. But then Javed’s musical education continues, we listen to even more new songs and our feet struggle to stay still, as the whole room is filled with new levels of pure, infectious energy. “You can’t start a fire without a spark” sings his newfound hero, and Javed finally begins to see life in a different way. In a moment of frustration, he listens to “Promised Land” and finds hope. New lyrics materialise and rotate all around him, and he experiences that familiar, liberating feeling that only music can give.

“You can’t start a fire without a spark”

Dancing In The Dark

But Javed’s discovery of Springsteen doesn’t stop at memorising his favourite lyrics: he owns the music. This source of inspiration becomes the energy that drives him to believe in himself, stand up to the bullies at school and follow his dreams. It is through music that he finds a way to be heard and ultimately becomes the person he wants to be, and that is the reason why Blinded by the Light is so much more than a feel-good coming of age story. Chadhra and Manzoor’s excellently written and brilliantly delivered drama is as inspirational as it is entertaining, and that is what makes it one of a kind.

Blinded by the Light is one of those films you’ll find yourself watching over and over again, and every time you’ll fall in love with music a little bit more. Its story will redefine your idea of cool, its dialogues will inspire you and its compelling musical sequences will have you clapping and singing out loud to all of the seventeen (yes, seventeen!) Springsteen songs you’ll hear. 

Rob Brydon’s hilarious cameo will have you in tears, Vivek Kalra’s incredible performance as Javed will entertain you and move you at the same time, and Kulvinder Ghir will surprise you in many ways with his portrayal of Javed’s father. You will root for Javed as he puts on a red bandana and tries to get the girl (Eliza, played by Nell Williams), and you will exit the screening smiling and trying to channel your inner Bruce. Because, just as our wise teenagers say, Bruce does embody “the best of human values”, after all.

 ​Gurinder Chadha (Left/Bend it Networks) and Sarfraz Manzoor (Right/Twitter) with Bruce Springsteen in March 2018
 ​Gurinder Chadha (Left/Bend it Networks) and Sarfraz Manzoor (Right/Twitter) with Bruce Springsteen in March 2018
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