The coming-of-age story ‘Blinded by the Light’ hits the right notes
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Written by: Sarfraz Manzoor
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Hayley Atwell, and Nell Williams
“Blinded by the Light” – “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” – “Hungry Heart” (1980) by Bruce Springsteen
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is starving. Not literally, but he’s starving for his voice. Born in Pakistan, he and his family moved to England. Luton, England, a town with more green than concrete, and it sits about 50 kilometers from London. So close to the country’s largest metropolis, but so far for a teenager without a car, without a girlfriend and without a social life. To make matters worse, his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) constantly sequesters him at home. Javed’s not even a dreamer, because he’s too mired in the white noise of teenage confusion to decide on a specific aspiration, other than wonder about life in London.
“You can’t start a fire without a spark.” – “Dancing in the Dark” (1984) by Bruce Springsteen
On a presumed ordinary day in 1987 - a time when young Brits listened to Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and yes, even Tiffany - a classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura) hands over his Bruce Springsteen “Born in the U.S.A.” cassette to Javed, and once he plays “Dancing in the Dark”, his life will never be the same.
Written by Sarfraz Manzoor, “Blinded by the Light” is his personal story and the earth-shattering impact that Springsteen had on his teenage beliefs. This is a story of instant, obsessive influence that gives a young man direction, an outlet and a passion. Of course, Javed’s new focus is contrary to his father’s wishes and conservative beliefs, let alone his dad’s agitation that his son worships a rebellious, soulful American rock star.
“Badlands, you gotta live it every day. Let the broken hearts stand, as the price you’ve gotta pay.” – “Badlands” (1978) by Bruce Springsteen
Director Gurinder Chadha – who wrote and directed “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002) - has captured disparities between child and parent before, and here, she delivers similar beats, although this film is more confrontational. Javed’s conflict with his dad is universal, but the added element of Malik’s eternally rigid views pile on more contention.
Throughout the film’s 1-hour 57-minute running time – which, admittedly, feels long – Malik’s downward constraints on Javed’s intrinsic wants never let up. He’s not an antagonistic, cruel ogre, but Malik’s on-screen appearances promote anxiety and semi-dread, because his strict messages are frequently anticipated and always fulfilled.
While his dad’s consistent ying drags Javed down, Chadha and Manzoor introduce Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) who supplies a never-ending yang of praise and encouragement. The film does not present Javed with the familiar cinematic pattern of a steady upward trajectory, and instead, it regularly presents starts and stops, peaks and valleys, and joys and heartbreaks, when volleying between the open world of opportunities out there and restrictions at home. In other words…real-life. A space that will probably resonate with anyone who clashed (or current clashes) with their parents.
“Come on with me. Tramps like us, Baby, we were born to run.” – “Born to Run” (1975) by Bruce Springsteen
Music, generally speaking, plays a massive role in teenagers’ lives, and with Javed’s love for Springsteen’s records, much of “Blinded by the Light” is bliss for any Bruce fan, and Chadha delivers thoughtful tributes to The Boss, again and again. For those unfamiliar with Springsteen’s work, Javed’s fixation might be puzzling, so insert your favorite band while watching this picture, and it all becomes clear. “Blinded by the Light” sprinkles other 80s tunes into the mix, so there’s a little something for everyone who enjoys the music from this particular era. More importantly, for those not satisfied with their personal status quo, Javed’s passion hits the right notes.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.