Blinded by the Light (2018) ***

August 7th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Gurinder Chadha; Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagmara, Dean-Charles Chapman, Bob Brydon; UK 2019, 117 min.

Based on the memoirs of co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor “Greetings from Bury Park” set in ’80s Luton, Gurinder Chadha repeats the formula from life Bend it like Beckham but this time the focus is music for a teenage Asian boy.

This coming of age story sees Javed (Kalra) in the full throes of adolescent angst, dominated by his dad and desperate for a girlfriend. But it all changes in Sixth Form when his glamorous and understanding English teacher Ms Clay (Atwell) helps him to develop his poetry, and punkish Eliza (Williams) falls for him. But most important of all, he discovers  Bruce “the Boss” Springsteen, thanks to his new best friend Roops (Phagmara). “Springsteen is what your father listens to”, says another friend Matt (Chapman), which may not true in Javed’s case, but Matt’s father (Brydon), an avid Springsteen fan, is a good example of how Javed and Roops have somehow jumped a generation. 

When Javed’s father Malik (Ghir) loses his job at ‘the Vauxhall’, the family dynamics take a turn for the worse. Malik can’t find a new job, leaving his wife is chained to the sewing machine to crank up their income. They can’t even afford to pay for the older daughter’s wedding – and when Malik finds out Javed has bought tickets for a Springsteen concert at Wembley, blowing £40  (of his own money) in the process, he rips up the tickets and starts a war with his son. But all is not lost: at the graduation ceremony Javed makes a long speech, weaving together the Springsteen and Asian family traditions, and setting the young man free to go to university in Manchester and enjoy Springsteen to the full.

Boundless enthusiasm is the main asset of Blinded: no less than seventeen Springsteen songs provide the background for Javed’s liberation saga, together with everything from kitchen sink drama to magic realism. But its infectious good-will is also peppered by too many clumsy, corny, clichéd scenes. Trying to be critical of traditional Pakistani ideology, Javed confronts his father, after he has been told “to follow the Jews and stay off the girls”. Javed tells his father this is a racist remark, but the scene is so ham-fisted, the effect is lost. When it comes to everyday racism, Chadha fares better: Javed’s family is not the only one which had plastic sheeting on the front door to prevent white hoodlums urinating through the letterbox.

DoP Ben Smithard (Downton Abbey) has hit the right tone: his images are a fairyland of colours and lights; a wild celebration of being young. The cast, particularly Viveik Kalra in his debut, is pitch perfect. Overall, the mix of aesthetics and the need to be over the top all the time, somehow reduces the impact. A little bit of coherence and structure would have made this much more than just a crowd-pleaser. AS



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