When American rock star Bruce Springsteen wrote the lyrics to his song Blinded by the Light, as a part of his 1973 debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen probably didn’t think that his lyrics would be inspiration for a British teenager of Pakistani descent, growing up as an immigrant in 1987 Britain controlled by Margaret Thatcher’ ruling Conservative Party. Yet, this is precisely what happens to Javed (Viveik Kalra) as he is growing up in Luton, England, amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the later 198o’s Britain. Javed has a very traditional family, with his strict, blue collar father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), his stay-at-home-but-working mother Noor (Meera Ganatra), and his two older sisters Shazia and Yasmeen (Nikita Mehta and Tara Divina).
Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) and co-written by Sarfraz Manzoor, who’s critically acclaimed personal memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll details Javed’s struggles of writing poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But Javed feels too ashamed to share his poetry with anyone, including his amiable teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), until his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of The Boss – the one and only Bruce Springsteen! The lyrics have a profound effect on Javed, as he consistently quotes Bruce’s lyrics, with his other friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who is not quite as impressed with Springsteen’s music as Javed. He doesn’t only find solitude and release from the stresses of daily life listening to The Boss, but also the confidence to fight for the things he previously didn’t believe were worth fighting for. Example: Javed has a fight with his activist girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams) but learning to control his own emotions so he doesn’t let it be a justification to become selfish, Javed wins back Eliza, who’s always been in his corner.
Viveik Kalra does a wonderful job making you believe that Javed is hearing Bruce Springsteen’s music for the first time, and you feel immediately drawn to his character. He then masterfully articulates just how it is affecting him and his trajectory in life. His tearfully delivered speech towards the end of the film, with his parents watching with tears of their own, is one of highest points of emotion for Javed, his family and the viewing audience alike. He embodies a person who is very easy to root for, despite his faults, sometimes minor, other times much larger (i.e. running away from home and disrespecting his father).
Blinded by the Light is also very true to the way people in 1987 Britain were living under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. There were very few jobs to be had and some naturally born Brits were less than welcoming to other minorities who had immigrated to Britain, especially those who were of Muslim faith and came from Pakistan. Javed’s father loses his job at a car factory in Luton, and this mother is left to do double to in home work, just to support the family. There is also tension between Javed and his father when he tells Javed that he must get a job (and stop listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, whom he believes to be Jewish (probably because of the last name).
Overall, Blinded by the Light takes the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen to a whole new country and it’s embraced by the next generation of young people who can resonate with it. Especially for Javed and Roops, who pops Javed’s “Bruce cherry”, they feel empowered by the music and lyrics enough to confront a group of white nationalist teenagers at a restaurant by quoting one of Springsteen’s words (in this case it was lyrics from the song Badlands). The culmination of Javed’s efforts come to be when he delivers that speech (referenced earlier) to his classmates and his family. He tells them; “My hope is to build a bridge to my ambitions but not a wall between me and my family.” We also get the pleasure of seeing Javed and Roops take a trip to America – specifically to Asbury Park, Long Branch and other part of New Jersey. The pleasure seen in their eyes is clear and the joy the experience during this trip makes everything that they’ve fought to overcome worth it in the end.
Have you seen Blinded by the Light? Well, what did you think?