Joining “Rocketman” and “Yesterday” in the category of music-based narratives this summer, “Blinded by the Light” is easily one of the best films I have seen this year. Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha offers this story inspired by true events, detailing one young man’s struggles to hold onto his cultural roots, while still searching for his own personal and independent life experience. Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a first-generation British citizen of Pakistani descent in the harsh political and social environment of 1987. His father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), is committed to traditional Eastern culture, while Javed himself desires the freedoms and modernized aspects of Western society. In the midst of this familial strife, Javed is also challenged with fitting into his high school, finding his first love, and resisting the brutal racism and xenophobia so unfortunately common in his region at the time. His one true outlet and escape from these afflictions is found in pouring his heart, soul, and mind into deeply personal poems and song lyrics. Soon, with the help of a fellow schoolmate and young man of Middle-Eastern descent, Roops (Aaron Phagura), Javed discovers a famous American musician by the name of Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. Incredibly, the lyrics and words of this American man’s music could just as easily apply to the life of Javed. Thus ensues a moving emotional journey of self-discovery for our protagonist, supported by the foundations of Springsteen’s legendary music.
The screenplay is very well-written by the trio of Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, and Sarfraz Manzoor, developing the wide range of nuanced characters with stellar efficiency. Additionally, the rich (and still relevant) social, political, and cultural themes are organically spun into the narrative, complementing the progressions and arcs of the characters with great effectiveness. The performances are solid across the board, and there is wonderful humor folded into the mix as well, even in the midst of the profound odyssey in which Javed finds himself. Further still, the technical elements shine brightly. From the excellent shot-selection and cinematography from DP Ben Smithard, to the proficiently maneuvered editing from Justin Krish, to the convincing 1980s-style production design (Nick Ellis), costume design (Annie Hardinge), and hair-and-makeup, the film’s beautiful aesthetic adds another layer to its overall impact. Yet, the real stand-out is how the music of Springsteen is expertly woven into the story. The lyrics commentate on the evolution of Javed’s character, guiding him throughout each day as he seeks clarity in the world around him. These words are inspiring, stimulating, and refreshing, yet somber, melancholy, and mournful. This blend of emotions act as a form of catharsis for our protagonist, in his endeavor to obtain a sense of peace and purpose. Springsteen’s songs are anthems for the broken, confused, and lonely people everywhere in the world, no matter where they come from or what they are going through. This is the mark of an artist who transcends his medium.
When all was said and done, I walked away from this film with a broad range of emotions and feelings, struggling to ascertain exactly how to break them all down. I could easily write 2,500 words on the resonant subject matter, well-crafted filmmaking aspects, and my own personal identifications with the material explored in this story. This is one of those profound features that will echo and reverberate throughout your consciousness for days to come. It begins conversations about the society in which we find ourselves, and the intersection of art and reality. With a runtime of two hours, there is a lot of substance packed into the story. I would not have even minded an extra 15-20 minutes added to the feature, to further cultivate and expand upon the themes. And, if my only issue with a film is the fact that I craved more of it, I think it is safe to say that Blinded by the Light is a wildly successful piece of art that will have people talking for years to come.
Takeaway Quote – “My dream is to build a bridge to my dreams, but not a wall between my family and me.” – Javed
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Writers: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, and Sarfraz Manzoor
Producers: Jane Barclay, Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Jamal Daniel, Alice Dawson, Hannah Leader, Tory Metzger, Tracy Nurse, Stephen Spence, Peter Touche, and Renee Witt
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Nell Williams, Tara Divina, Rob Brydon, Frankie Fox, Hayley Atwell, and Sally Phillips