Blinded by the Light
Blinded by the Light
Rating3.5 / 5
Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell
24 October 2019
Gurinder Chadha tackles economic and social unrest with a quasi-musical inspired by The Boss.
Bruce Springsteen almost fades into the background of Blinded by the Light, the new film by Gurinder Chadha. It borrows its title from one of his songs. Its protagonist, Javed, models his look and lifestyle after Springsteen’s working-man image. Its soundtrack could double as a Springsteen greatest hits record. And yet Blinded by the Light manages to be about so much more than heartfelt rock music. It addresses stability, independence, cultural identity and the chasms that exist between generations. Most importantly, it’s about relationships.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is the 16-year-old son of Pakistani migrants in Luton Town, England, in 1987. Thatcher is prime minister; her unfavourable policies have encouraged unemployment and unleashed racial hatred across the country. It’s a dead-end town, bound on one side by economic desperation and on the other by social oppression. All Javed desires is a way out, a freedom both from Luton and his heritage.
One day, a Sikh schoolmate hands him two Bruce Springsteen cassette tapes. The lyrics of “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark” reverberate within his soul. They speak to his solitude. Suddenly his eyes are opened. It’s as if Springsteen wrote all his songs just for him. But like I said, Blinded by the Light is more about Javed and his rapidly collapsing world and less about The Boss. There is no real plot for him except to listen to lots of Springsteen songs and regurgitate their lyrics to educate everyone he meets. Springsteen’s words become the anthem of his life.
The movie takes on the energy of a jukebox musical, though I would’ve liked it to have been a bit more sure of itself. There are song-and-dance numbers, but not enough to qualify it as an actual musical.
Blinded by the Light is better when it uses Springsteen as a conduit for Javed to explore himself. Does he accept enrolment at a college in Manchester, where he would be free from his responsibilities as a son? Does he stay behind in dreary old Luton, forsaking his dreams of becoming a writer in order to help his family stay afloat?
Much of the movie hinges on the relationship between him and his dad Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), which spends more time down than up, and Javed delivers a magnificently moving, eloquent speech at the end that summarises all the movie is trying to teach us.
I quite enjoyed Blinded by the Light. I like the music of Springsteen, so I admired the way Gurinder Chadha dissects his lyrics and turns them into a rallying cry. And I was especially swayed by Ghir as Malik, who wanted nothing but a better life for his family and quickly realises how savagely dreams can be torn apart.
With so many rich characters and a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a shame the movie ends as neatly as it does. It suggests that such deep-rooted troubles can be easily solved with a little American rock. But, I suppose, with so much joy in its heart, it would’ve been silly if it had ended with cynicism.
Images © Universal Pictures 2019