Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light is inspired by British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings From Bury Park.
It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and now has a widespread release.
Set in 1987, during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, the film is the coming-of-age story about a teenager.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a British teen of Pakistani descent.
Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, he writes poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father (Kulwinder Ghir).
But when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in the powerful lyrics.
As Javed discovers an outlet for his own pent-up dreams, he also begins to express himself in his own voice.
Balance Portrayal of Eastern and Western Cultures
The main conflict of choosing dreams over duty was established in Gurinder’s Bend It Like Beckham (BILB), but the good thing is that BBTL does not suffer a hangover from this.
Living in a digital era, it is refreshingly nostalgic to witness the 80s England and Chadha encompasses all the major news incidents well.
Plus, the light humour helps in demonstrating the cultural struggles and circumstances.
It is interesting to see how the socio-political atmosphere neatly acts as the backdrop in Javed’s life.
From the elections to the racism, each aspect sufficiently showcases how dire the atmosphere was for South-Asians in Britain during the 80s.
Whilst highlighting the milieu, Gurinder Chadha strikes a neat balance in depicting the Eastern and Western cultures.
At any point in the film, it neither becomes too Desi nor does it become too British and we get a strong flavour of both differing lifestyles.
As such, the concept is interesting.
The two protagonists – Javed and his Sikh friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) idolise a western celebrity and yet are subjected to prejudice and racial segregation.
The film subtly reminds audiences how much the Asians have endured a lot in order to integrate and survive in the UK… Some are still suffering even now.
Effective Cinematic Aesthetics
BBTL’s narrative is highly relatable. All the creatives, regardless of race or gender, will be able to resonate with it. Somehow, the main protagonist’s story becomes ours.
How Javed’s sentiments towards Springsteen are similar to how youths of today are inspired by Drake, which is why the movie will appeal to wide audiences.
When it comes to visual aesthetics, the film scores well. On the cinematic front, it is definitely Chadha’s best work.
Her creative vision is impressive. A sequence showcasing the storm brewing externally and internally (within Javed) is brilliant.
Simultaneously, Springsteen’s lyrics reflect Javed’s frustration and entrapment.
Whilst Bruce Springsteen himself does not act in the film, his ubiquitous presence almost makes him an additional, instrumental character.
His song lyrics are well-embedded to emphasise the emotions and circumstances at a particular point in the movie.
Even the scenes where Javed goes to the hills by the motorway exhibits his desire to escape.
The coming and going of cars also symbolise how people are moving on in life and yet he is still stuck in Luton.
The cinematic tropes and social context are enriched by the cast performances.
Viveik Kalra delivers a convincing act as the young and aspirational Javed. His performance makes us feel particularly empathetic towards him
His innocent looks, combined with his sincerity as an actor are what work. He shines during the emotional quotients.
Kulvinder Ghir is organic as Javed’s father. He mimics the Desi accent but it is refreshing to see how the role is not a stereotypical chauvinist.
With characters like George Khan (Late Om Puri from East Is East) already set-up, it is good that Ghir avoids aping these established performances.
Whilst she has minimal dialogues, Meera Ganatra is impactful as the mother. Her screen-presence is empowering.
It is progressive to see that her role does not succumb to the surrounding pressures and patriarchy.
Nell Williams is effervescent as Eliza. Her character’s left-wing, liberal and compassionate attitude reminds one of Keira Knightley’s role in BILB.
Aaron Phagura also leaves a mark as Roops. Despite playing a Sikh teenager, he doesn’t make the character amateurish or stereotypical.
Nikita Mehta, Rob Brydon and Dean-Charles Chapman also deliver good performances in their respective roles.
What Could be Better?
The film overall is well-covered. However, it seems as though the narrative gets stuck in the middle and subsequently, the second half drags.
Given that the movie is quite realistic, it would’ve been better if this tone was maintained throughout.
At some points, it becomes too musical and theatrical, which (we feel) does not really suit the film’s style.
Furthermore, the pace of the film is quite slow. Therefore, it requires patience… But we can assure that it is worth our time because the filmmaker takes us on quite a congenerous journey.
Overall, Blinded By The Light is Gurinder Chadha’s finest endeavours in showcasing a purely cinematic narrative.
The good thing is that she does not repeat the stereotypical tropes from past films. She, in fact, strikes a balance between two different cultures which is quite refreshing to watch.
There is a feel-good factor to this one and will definitely speak to you.
.5 (3.5/5 stars)