Film Review: Blinded by the Light

14 August 19 words: James Hill

We went to check out Gurinder Chadha's feel-good story of a British-Pakistani teenager growing up in 1980s Luton whose life is changed by the discovery of Bruce Springsteen...

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra

Running time: 117 mins

Blinded by the Light tells the story of a British-Pakistani family living in Luton, and the struggles of Javed (Viveik Kalra) who dreams of being a writer. But his aspirations are quashed and, as a teen, he remains frustrated at his father’s traditional Pakistani values - until Javed discovers Bruce Springsteen’s music. 

Before this awakening Javed pens poems and attempts to write lyrics for his friend Matt, who plays in a synth band. However, with no girlfriend and no opportunity to party lyrics are few and far between. The discovery of Springsteen occurs when Javed starts sixth form and befriends Sikh classmate Roops, who is obsessed with The Boss. Roops lends him two Springsteen albums on cassette and implores him to listen. Javed finally succumbs during a thunderous night where he intends to throw away everything he’s ever written. The two cassettes fall out of his school bag and instead, he puts on his headphones. The opening lyrics to Badlands filters through his ears. Lyrics are displayed on the screen, giving the audience the opportunity to capture Javed’s sense of curiosity and wonder, with Javed realising that the lyrics resonate with him and his life in Luton. With further encouragement from his teacher to continue his writing he gains a newfound confidence, leading him to approach the student paper and also apply for Manchester University, over 100 miles from home. 

The soundtrack is archetypal 80s, kicking off with Pet Shop Boys over a montage of news clips from Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Cutting Crew, Tiffany, and of course Springsteen all provide a consistent reminder of the times and eagle-eyed film fans may also spot “Zammo says no” on a school blackboard, a nod to Grange Hill. But the 80s was also rife with racism and the rise of the National Front. Chadha does not shirk away from these issues in the film, with Javed being spat on because of his Pakistani heritage by a local thug and a National Front march disrupting his sister’s wedding day. Javed and Roops also encounter three lads in a shopping mall cafe who force them to move seats. While these aren’t Shane Meadows levels of realism, it does provide an honest account of life as an ethnic minority in Luton. 

While Blinded By The Light doesn’t quite reach the feel good frolics of Rocketman or Sing Street ultimately it’s the universality of Springsteen’s lyrics that underpin its story

Springsteen was generous in offering twelve tracks for the film, including a previously unreleased track that was originally written for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneThe focus on Springsteen’s music does, however, misfire on a couple of occasions in the first half of the film. Javed is working on a market stall and spots his love interest Eliza, leading to him and Matt’s father (played by Rob Brydon) both singing along to Hungry Heart, with market traders and the general public dancing in the background. There is also a similar scene where Javed and Roops lock the door of the sixth form radio room with Born To Run playing over the tannoy, before Javed, Roops, and Eliza, run off together through school, the streets of Luton, and afar. These two scenes wouldn’t be out of place in a musical and personally felt a little over-the-top and awkward.  

However, the second half of the film hones in on Javed’s turmoil and Springsteen’s lyrics are used with gravitas in key scenes. This is particularly effective when he and his sister attend a party at a nightclub during school hours. The Bhangra music playing is drowned out, with Javed preferring to put on his headphones to listen to Springsteen. But Javed notices his sister getting close to a boy at the party and questions her outside the venue. The more serious scenes are a result of Chadha and Manzoor’s personal experiences of immigrating to Britain at a time of political uncertainty and provide a welcome contrast to the funner elements of the film. 

While Blinded By The Light doesn’t quite reach the feel good frolics of Rocketman or Sing Street ultimately it’s the universality of Springsteen’s lyrics that underpin its story. It may be a tad cheesy and cliche in parts, but is enjoyable and uplifting nonetheless.

Did you know? The film's title comes from Bruce Springsteen's song Blinded by the Light, which was made famous by Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Blinded by the Light is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 22 August