“Blinded by the Light” is an earnest and exuberant exploration of what it means to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places.
It soars thanks to the youthful energy of its stars and the universal themes and experiences it depicts.
Inspired by an incredible true story, audiences should find what the filmmakers deliver both timely and timeless.
What’s it about?
In 1987 Luton, England, Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a high school-aged Pakistani kid just doing what he can to make it through school and life without any real direction.
Not that he lacks for external sources of direction. Javed’s father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), never misses an opportunity to loudly remind Javed of what will lead to success: get a good job, work hard, remember he’s Pakistani and keep his head down.
Luton isn’t exactly the most tolerant and open-minded of places at that point in history, either. Part of an immigrant family in a working-class town, his background instantly sets him apart and makes him a target for intolerance.
Javed tries to find his own path through writing poetry and songs. It’s not until he meets and connects with Roops (Aaron Phagura), however, that he finds his true north. A devotee of Asbury, NJ-born Bruce Springsteen, Roops puts a Springsteen album on cassette tape in Javed’s hands, calling it, “a direct line to all that’s true in this shitty world.”
Naturally, Javed’s skeptical. Then he hits “play” on his Walkman and boom!
As unlikely as it might sound, the Pakistani teen from Luton finds every lyric of every Springsteen song resonating through his whole being as though the songs were written to him and for him.
And then, everything begins to change. Javed’s eyes open not just to possibilities and potential in his own life, but also to challenges he, his family, and his community face as racial tensions threaten to tear it apart.
Balancing highs and lows
“Blinded by the Light” is based on screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.” Manzoor teamed with writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend it Like Beckham“) and Paul Mayeda Berges to adapt the book into a film that’s got a little 80s teen romance, a little big-screen musical, and a whole lot of heart.
Chadha deserves tremendous credit for crafting a film that’s both grounded in real-world, relatable tensions and transcendent in terms of its emotional and existential highs. Her work, in turn, derives in equal measure from Manzoor’s own inspirational story and the enduring power of Springsteen’s music, which powers the film’s most joyful and revelatory moments.
Oh, and it’s funny, too. The film plays for laughs Javed’s abrupt adoption of everything “Bruce,” including denim top-to-bottom, and the reaction of his family and peers. But thanks to how Chadha builds up to that change, it never feels silly or derisive. Javed’s transformation feels genuine, and you can’t help but smile watching it unfold.
It’s important to note, also, just how compelling the actors in front of the camera are in “Blinded by the Light.” British stage and screen star Kulvinder Ghir and newcomer Viveik Kalra each turn in standout performances as Malik and Javed, respectively. Their father-son dynamic and how their conflict is resolved fuels much of the film’s emotional impact.
Also, watch for “Game of Thrones” alum Dean-Charles Chapman and Hayley Atwell (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier“) in significant supporting roles. Atwell’s easy to spot; Chapman, however, is almost unrecognizable as Javed’s synthpop-obsessed neighbor, Matt.
Altogether, “Blinded by the Light” delivers one of the year’s most satisfying movie experiences. Its arrival in theaters couldn’t be timelier, either — it’s the perfect end-of-summer feel-good film for audiences craving something other than superheroes, sequels, and remakes.
Blinded by the Light
Starring Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, Hayley Atwell and Dean-Charles Chapman. Directed by Gurinder Chadha.
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs.