Review: Blinded by the Light
by Ola Salwa
- Bruce Springsteen songs help a Pakistani teenager to thrive during Thatcher-era Britain in this feel-good Sundance premiere helmed by Gurinder Chadha
Finding one’s unique voice and making it heard while fighting against prejudice and discrimination seems to be one of the strongest themes in the 2019 Sundance Film Festival programme. Bend It Like Beckham [+see also:
film profile] and What’s Cooking? helmer Gurinder Chadha joins in with this motif in Blinded by the Light, an adaptation of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoirs that is now screening in Premieres. “No worries, mate,” as the Brits say – the film is far from being a raw and gritty biopic about the disillusion that life inevitably brings, even though it is set during one of the bleakest decades in the UK’s recent history, and discrimination is no laughing matter. Chadha brings a lot of humour, warmth and even street dancing sequences (remember her Bride and Prejudice – The Bollywood Musical [+see also:
film profile] or Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot?) to this work, creating what might not necessarily be the most original story, but one that is definitely light-hearted and uplifting. A lot of the credit should also go to Bruce Springsteen’s songs, which strike some powerful and energetic chords in this coming-of-age dramedy.
Luton in the late 1980s is not the coolest place to live. The economic crisis is biting, and nationalistic sentiments are on the rise, pigeonholing 16-year-old Javed (Viveik Kalra), his hard-working parents and his sisters as “Pakis”. The discrimination takes on various forms and intensities here: the parents of Javed’s friend, who are particularly well-off Tory supporters, treat him like an “exotic” addition to their daughter’s entourage, other students chase Javed and his Sikh friend out of a café, and a local punk would be more than happy to smash his slightly different face in. But being the son of immigrants is not the only – and definitely not the most important – thing that makes Javed stand out. He has an extraordinary talent for literature (nurtured by his English teacher), as well as a peculiar taste in music – at least according to his peers and his best friend, a Robert Smith lookalike. Bruce Springsteen might be a bard from the past, but Javed doesn’t really care for elusive trends. Like every good writer, he is able to see things in a broader and more profound context. Also, he simply needs a hero he can look up to, and who can empower him in some way. The author of “Born to Run” suits that role perfectly. The endearing and realistic performance by Kalra brings a lot of gravity and texture to the story, as do those of his co-stars Aaron Phagura and Dean-Charles Chapman.
Blinded by the Light was produced by Gurinder Chadha, Jane Barclay and Jamal Daniel. The production companies behind it are British outfits Bend It Films and Ingenious Media. Its international sales are handled by the UK's Cornerstone Films.
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