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Blinded by the Light – Gurinder Chadha’s latest inspirational comedy

Blinded by the Light – Gurinder Chadha’s latest inspirational comedy
August 01
14:58 2019

India Post News Service

India Post was invited to an advanced screening of Gurinder Chadha’s new film, Blinded by the Light. Film lovers are familiar with Chadha’s work; after all, who can forget the 2002 inspirational comedy, Bend it like Beckham?

Blinded By The Light has a similar theme – of a South Asian British second-generation immigrant yearning to escape the restrictions of his traditional upbringing and fulfill his dreams, both personal and professional.

In this case, the protagonist is a 16-17 year old boy, Javed, who is Pakistani by descent. The setting of this film is the late 1980s – 1987 to be precise – in the town of Luton, England. The film’s title is derived from the lyrics to one of Bruce Springsteen’s famous numbers.

Javed’s father Malik, played by Kulvinder Ghir, is a factory worker in Luton. He is the first one to leave his family in Karachi, Pakistan, to immigrate to Britain. A typical middle class South Asian parent, he emphasizes the value of hard work and tells his son to emulate the Jews (a surprising thing to hear in today’s times, considering that he is Muslim). He tells Javed that he does not want him to end up as another Pakistani taxi-driver.

As Malik drops off his son for his first day at sixth-form college (pre-university in the UK), he warns him “to stay away from the girls” and “to follow the Jews”, loud enough for the other students to hear and thoroughly mortifying Javed. And to top it off, he says that he will find his son a girl when the time is right.

Javed’s mother Noor, played by Meera Ganatra, supports the family by sewing clothes. He has two sisters – the older one, Yasmeen (Tara Divina), who is on the verge of getting married and the younger Shazia (Nikita Mehta), who is his friend and confidante.

Racism in 1980s Britain is striking as Javed is followed around by thugs, slurs are hurled at him and his fellow British Pakistanis – the word “Paki” is a racist slur that is often used for all South Asians – Bend it like Beckham had ample mention of it – and his own father tries to drill this into Javed’s head: “You will never be British; you will always be a Pakistani.”

Javed’s parents and their friends keep their heads down and carry on, trying not to stick out too much. A particularly distressing incident is when a group of young boys urinate into the threshold of his father’s friend, Mr Shah’s house. The women in the family treat it as a routine
incident, cleaning up the mess with gloves, buckets and mops and Mr. Shah rationalizes it, saying that children sometimes do such things.

Javed does find friends in his British neighbor, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his family. Matt is an aspiring pop/rock star, and has his own band while Javed dreams of being a writer, penning poems secretly in his room.

Matt invites him to parties at his place with the promise of setting him up with a girl, but Javed can never make it against his parents’ wishes.

He leads a lonely life among peers, until he finds a mentor in his English teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) and befriends a Sikh classmate, Roops (Aaron Phugara) and the smart and pretty Eliza (Nell Williams). Roops gives him a cassette that introduces him to the music legend, Bruce Springsteen.

On a particularly low day in his life, Javed’s angst reaches a fever pitch as he yells at his sister, Shazia, “You and I were born in the wrong country at the wrong time, in the wrong family!”

He even throws away all his poems. Just then, as he listens to Springsteen’s music by chance, the lyrics ignite a fire within him. He gathers the poems that are flying around the neighborhood and hands them over to his teacher the next day.

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams, Gurinder Chadha, Writer/Director/Producer, Sarfraz Manzoor, Writer, Aaron Phagura

Meanwhile, his father gets laid off from the factory and he is asked to shoulder some responsibilities by finding a job. His mother takes on a bigger workload of sewing clothes until the wee hours of the morning and even has to pawn off her gold jewelry for their eldest daughter Yasmeen’s upcoming wedding.

The recession in then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s time meant that few places had any jobs to offer. Javed manages to find some work helping out Matt’s father (Rob Brydon) – a fellow Springsteen fan – with his outdoor clothes’ store. He also musters the guts to ask Eliza out on a date and later on, meets her parents who are quintessential Tories (British Conservative Party supporters).

All the while, Springsteen’s music and lyrics breathe new vigor into his dull world. He and Roops play pranks such as breaking into the school’s student radio recording room and blasting Springsteen hits – a trick that nearly gets them suspended. Along with Eliza, the trio form a clique of their own, dancing and jumping through halls and highways, and gaining admirers along the way.

Javed musters the guts to insist that the school newspaper editor read his review of Bruce Sprinsteen, even as the latter has repeatedly rejected him. Finally, the editor feels there is a niche for him as a Pakistani Muslim fan of an American music icon.

The lyrics of Bruce Sprinsteen even inspire Javed and Roops to stand up to racist bullies.

Shazia has her own secret as well – “daytimer”, which was what a youngster who sneaked out of classrooms to go to clubs in the day time, was called – and Javed gets to see his sister totally transformed as she and her peers dance to Punjabi Bhangra beats in glamorous outfits. Shazia even has a boyfriend.

Javed’s dreams of becoming a serious writer take wings when Ms. Clay refers Javed to her friend at the newspaper, The Herald, getting him an internship, albeit an unpaid one.
The film takes a dramatic turn when right-wing nationalists lead a demonstration on the day of Yasmeen’s wedding, which unfortunately turns violent despite police patrolling and Malik, Javed’s father, is beaten up. Javed, in the meantime, has slipped away to buy tickets for himself and Eliza to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Wembley Stadium in London, a chance to see his icon in real life.

Their mosque is shut down after violent attacks. Javed gets a chance to report on the event at The Herald and earn his own byline, on the basis of his knowledge of Urdu and the culture. However, his father is not at all pleased with his writing about his religion.

Providence helps the budding author when Ms. Clay submits Javed’s essay to a competition and he wins it, earning a chance to visit New Jersey, USA, the state of birth of Bruce Springsteen. When he informs his parents, Javed’s father warns him that everything that is bad about Britain is worse in America. And the son retorts that everything that is good in Britain is even better in the United States.

Javed and Roops finally land in the United States, and the immigration officer is quite amused when Javed tells him the purpose of their visit and he laughingly stamps their entry, saying that he couldn’t think of a better reason to visit the United States.

The duo visit the hometown of their idol – Asbury Park, New Jersey – but Javed misses his family and is aware of their hardships.

A story of middle class struggles, of an immigrant’s yearning to belong to the host society and integrate with it, youthful aspirations, the grit to make dreams come true, and above all, the power of music and art to inspire and uplift beyond borders and cultures, is what makes Blinded by the Light endearing.

Viveik Kalra, the lead actor, has charisma and fits the role to a T. Aaron Phugara, Nell Williams and Dean-Charles Chapman bring distinctive personalities to their respective characters of Roops, Eliza and Matt, making a huge impact.

Kulwinder Ghir, who plays Javed’s father, is a great find. He evokes sympathy and laughter as the typical South Asian middle-class immigrant father whose goal is to see his children “settled”, i.e. educated, employed and married to fellow Pakistanis at a suitable age. Meera Ganatra’s Noor tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings as the hapless yet devoted wife and mother who does whatever it takes to keep the household running.

While Yasmeen has little screen time, Tara Divina essays the character well and Nikita Mehta’s Shazia as the sweet and hardworking, yet secretly spunky girl, adds greatly to the milieu.

Hayley Atwell’s character, Ms. Clay, is a brave and passionate one, encouraging her student and protesting against right-wingers. She easily stands out as a great influence in the young man’s story.

The other supporting cast is stellar as well. The watchful neighbor, Mr. Evans, played by David Hyman, commends Javed on his writing in that very subtle, English way, telling Javed and his family about the time he and his mates marched against the Nazis in World War II, drawing a parallel between them and the racist right-wingers in Britain.

The original score by A.R. Rahman adds a great finale and a crossover touch to a film that is heavily underscored by Bruce Sprinsteen’s music.

The screenplay by Sarfraz Manzoor, with additional credits by Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, is engaging, with lots of subtle humor, and laced with dramatic twists, romantic escapades and triumphs, making it a truly feel-good, inspirational comedy for teens and adults alike.

The film is based on Sarfraz’s autobiographical book, Greetings from Bury Park, which was published in 2007. The writer is a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, having attended over 150 of the icon’s concerts, as the credits reveal.

The director, Gurinder Chadha’s humorous take on South Asian families and their quirks, is very evident, as is her overarching theme of connecting family, friendship and the pursuit of one’s dreams while navigating culture chasms. She does a good job of transporting the viewer back to 1980s Britain.

Tender and humorous, bleak yet tremendously hopeful, the viewer can expect to walk away with a stride in his/her step and a smile, knowing that dreams do come true, if you dare to believe in them and pursue them.

The film is slated for release in the United States August 16. India Post definitely recommends this film.



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    It’s a lovely book. It feels energetically clear and light. It’s easy to read, dip in and out and most importantly it offers information without fluff! Blessings on this project.

    Jac O’Keeffe
    Spirituality teacher based in USA.

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