Everyone needs a form of escapism, whether that involves music, film, art, or just about anything that gives us a break from reality. In Blinded by the Light, that relief comes from the music of Bruce Springsteen, which transforms the life of British-Pakistani teen Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) against the background of Thatcherite Britain.
Inspired by the memoir of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, the film sees Javed torn between his family and his ambition to become a writer after developing a deep connection with Springsteen’s music. Although the life of a world-famous American singer may seem far removed from Javed’s quiet life in Luton, the teenager deeply relates to Springsteen’s sentiments on wanting to break free from small-town claustrophobia and insularity. Between the rise of the xenophobic National Front, ever-increasing unemployment rates, and the high expectations his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) has of him, Javed feels suffocated and dreams of a better life. The lyrics of Springsteen’s songs inspire him to work towards his writing career, but this creates a rift between him and his family who are struggling financially.
Javed is the ultimate underdog; he’s lovable and so easy to root for. Kalra perfectly captures his pure-of-heart dorkiness and glee, and his bright smile stands out against his father’s unshakeably stern expression. Malik constantly comes into conflict with Javed but, at times, he delivers some hilarious one-liners, and Ghir balances these comedic and dramatic moments well. In spite of these performances, some of the film’s dialogue sounds stilted and too cheesy for its own good, appearing inauthentic on occasion. However, Javed gives a speech at the end of the film that’s incredibly moving that leaves no dry eyes in the room.
When it comes to incorporating Springsteen’s music, director Gurinder Chadha varies the way in which the songs are visualised. When Javed hears ‘Dancing in the Dark’ for the first time, the lyrics that most speak to him flash onto the screen, giving us an insight into his thoughts and feelings without him uttering a word. One of Springsteen’s most famous songs, ‘Born to Run’, plays out like a music video with Javed and his friends, Roops (Aaron Phagura) and Eliza (Nell Williams), running through the streets of Luton singing at the top of their voices. The songs are rightfully not shoehorned in at every opportunity but rather put to their best and most creative use.
The joy that shines through the film’s lighter side is definitely infectious but this doesn’t take away from the more serious, hard-hitting scenes. Javed has so much to give, but is repeatedly knocked down by his father’s tyranny, and by the racism and Islamophobia that have poisoned corners of his town. Although Blinded by the Light is set some 30 years ago, the frightening far-right rhetoric that the National Front espoused is still seen today under various names, not just appearing in the UK, but within the USA too. Chadha deals with the issue honestly, rightfully exposing the prejudiced attitudes that many white Brits possessed but without portraying violence gratuitously.
Regardless of personal ambition or knowledge of Bruce Springsteen, Blinded by the Light tells a relatable story that is sure to uplift and inspire any audience. It has heart and charm in buckets but also takes on the responsibility of exploring a turbulent period in British political history from an often-ignored perspective.