Blinded By The Light

In this moment (which keeps getting longer) of peak music films, along comes the unlikely, true and thoroughly enjoyable story of a British Pakistani teenager who comes to embrace the music and message of Bruce Springsteen as an answer to his small-town life.

(L-r) NELL WILLIAMS as Eliza, AARON PHAGURA as Roops and VIVEIK KALRA as Javed in New Line Cinema’s inspirational drama BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s acclaimed autobiography “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.” The film is ably directed by Gurinder Chadha, who previously showed her skills in the delightful “Bend It Like Beckham.”

In “Blinded By The Light” Javed (Viveik Kalra) is growing up in the town of Luton, England, while dealing with a father who wants to narrow the son’s dreams and aspirations. Anyone remotely familiar with Bruce Springsteen‘s upbringing will understand why The Boss gave a thumbs up to the concept of the film and more importantly approved the massive use of his music in it.

The director wrote recently about showing Springsteen her final cut of the film:

I sat behind Bruce like a teenager, peeking over his shoulder to see if he was responding to the film, laughing in the right places, etc. The lights came up in the screening room, I held my breath. Without Bruce’s approval, we had no film. Bruce walked towards me, gave me a big hug and kiss, and said, ‘Thank you for honouring me so beautifully. Don’t change a thing.’ It was the greatest review I’ve ever received.

This is warmly reminiscent of Cameron Crowe‘s story of sitting in the screening room behind Jimmy Page and Robert Plant awaiting their OK to use Led Zeppelin songs in “Almost Famous.”

The film’s title “Blinded By The Light” comes from the first song on Springsteen’s first album, and the reference is poignantly delivered toward the end of the film. The bulk of Springsteen’s music in the soundtrack comes from the 1980s; the film is set in 1987. Both Asbury Park and Luton went through political, racial and economic turmoil. Although Luton does not have a boardwalk, we understand Javed’s growing affinity for the musician’s perspective. The wrenching economic downturns in both towns merge for Javed.

A discerning high school teacher spots Javed’s skill in writing, which provides the student with a shot at the world beyond Luton.

The most poignant scenes in the film are between Javed and his father (the persuasive Kulvinder Ghir). The clash between tradition and the aspirations of youth are central to the film’s strength. Delightful are the scenes as Javed’s sisters and school mates remain perplexed by his growing admiration for a blue collar American singer. One of the enjoyable riffs in the film is the juxtaposition with the disposable British pop of the 80s that fills most everyone else’s life.

One sequence is reminiscent of “Rocketman” by taking a Sprinsgteen song into the realm of song and dance musical theatre. The flight of fancy surprisingly works.

Most of the Springsteen songs are directly from his albums, but several obscure versions of familiar songs add poignancy to the scenes. In one instance, a long extended instrumental passage is used effectively in an important scene en route to a wedding.

At the film’s premiere in Asbury Park: Patti and Bruce Springsten, writer/director producer Gurinder Chadha and Viveik Kalra, who plays Javed in “Blinded By The Light.” © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

In much the same way my wife said she would enjoy the film “Nowhere Boy” even if it was not about John Lennon, she observed that “Blinded By The Light” would work without the pervasive Springsteen influence. Indeed, there are moments in the film which steer dangerously close to idolatry of The Boss, but the director pulls back and a wider humanity is put in perspective.

I will be most interested to monitor the appeal of this film for a younger generation relatively unfamiliar with Springsteen‘s music. Certainly anyone remotely a fan will fully appreciate the film, which is earnestly delivered in a compelling and heartfelt way.

Author Sarfraz Manzoor has seen Springsteen over 150 times. This author not so many. Bruce Springsteen, Anaheim, December 2012 (photo by Brad Auerbach)






Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.