Film Review: BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (UK 2019)

Blinded by the Light Poster

In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.


Gurinder Chadha

BLINDED BY THE LGHT is inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen.  Manzoor co-wrote the script with director Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges.  It is based on Manzoor’s acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.  In real life, Springsteen told Manzoor he loved the memoir which inspired Manzoor to move forward to eventually have the film made.

The story is set in the town of Luton in 1987 Thatcher’s Britain.  Javed (an impressive first performance by youthful Viveik Kalra) is a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is troubled.  His father has just been laid off and his family has to cope with expenses.  Being Pakistani, he and his family are subject to racism.  His quest to become a writer, however is encouraged by his English teacher but discouraged by his father.   He yearns for a girlfriend.  It is at this point his life where he discovers the music of Springsteen.

African born British Asian Gurinder Chadha has got two commercial hits under her belt – 1993’s BHANJI ON THE BEACH  (Indian women on an excursion to Blackpool) and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (female talented soccer player within a close knitted Indian family), which is likely the reason BLINDED BY THE LIGHT got made.  She championed the cause of the film being made based on the memoir her friend Sarfraz Manzoor gave her to read. 

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT had initial troubles in funding but after being made and premiering at Sundance this January, earned a standing ovation as well as a $15 million sale to Want Bros. who is releasing this film.

Like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a manipulative crowd pleaser set in Britain in this case the town of Luton in 1987 where unemployment and racism was present in Thatcher’s Britain.  Ironically during one racial riot scene, a poster of Thatcher “Britain Unified’ can be seen in the background.

The film is heavily laden with Pakistani stereotypes from the rebellious son to the patriarch father to the quiet all-knowing mother.  The young immigrant faces formidable obstacles in his quest to become a writer as well as a romance with a white Brit.  The father is down on the son before reconciliation.  All this have been seen before, as most recent as in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY.

There are certain difficulties with translating the story into film.  Foremost is to show how the lyrics of Springsteen’s songs affect Javed.  This director Chadha accomplishes by having the lyrics done as subtitles appearing on the screen as Javed listens to the songs.

Despite being a male dominated story, Chad infuses the strength of the female in the Pakistani family.   She shows the father crying at his failure at one point.  In another scene, the mother makes a distinct influence on the fathers decision by telling him that she would never forgive him if Javed leaves the family.  Yet anther shows Javed’s sister also having a good time partying and is therefore also an individual voice in the family.

Despite director Chadha and the film’s good intentions, the film bows to white commercialism stereotyping minorities, providing no insight to the problems but dishing put easy feel good set-ups like the unbearable ending speech Javed delivers at his graduation ceremonies.


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