The name will be familiar to any fan of American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen but that is not to say that Gurinder Chadha’s latest offering would appeal only to Springsteen fans. The film marks a real return to form for the filmmaker behind the mega successful ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, which remains the benchmark for the most sensitive portrayal of the Indian immigrant experience in Britain.
While ‘Blinded By the Light’ shifts the focus slightly to Britain’s Pakistani community, the overarching theme captures the wider South Asian migrant trials and tribulations in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s period of economic austerity.
Javed (Kalra) is a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy growing up in the staid, industrial city of Luton amid mounting unemployment and nasty racism of the National Front. He has simple dreams of wanting a girlfriend, the freedom to go to parties and, most importantly, to be able to pursue his love for writing. But he, along with his younger sister Shazia, feel trapped between two worlds – a strict conservative Muslim household headed by their father (Ghir) and the freedoms on offer in the wider British society.
A friendship with a Sikh boy in school opens up a whole new window to his trapped world – the socially-aware lyrics of Springsteen, which Javed feels speak directly to him. He finds himself getting fully immersed in what this singer has to offer and gradually feeds off that confidence to pursue his path towards writing. A very perceptive English teacher at school, a fellow Springsteen aficionado (Brydon) and a vivacious girlfriend ultimately lend a helping hand to help him overcome all the teenage angst and confusion.
Chadha excels at tugging at the heartstrings in any coming-of-age tale and this one is no exception. The fact that it is based on the memoirs of Manzoor’s own life experiences and that Springsteen himself gave his blessing to the project, all add up to a cinematic experience that will leave you extremely moved, even teary-eyed at times. The cast is perfectly suited to each role, though Meera Ganatra seems slightly unconvincing as Noor – the long-suffering British Pakistani mother of Javed. Nikita Mehta as Shazia is one to watch out as a new rising star.
This film, which has been creating a buzz ever since it was first screening at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, will most certainly go down as yet another example of Gurinder Chadha’s brilliance when it comes to translating the immigrant experience on to the big screen. A must watch!