“It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win.” – Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road
To some, Bruce Springsteen is an artist that resides solely in their dad’s old record collection, an almost mythical figure whose name only comes up in conversation as a tired example of ‘the way music used to be’. Born in 1949, to a working class New Jersey family, the titan of poetic rock ’n’ roll certainly does not immediately appear to be of interest to the modern world – after all, his music speaks of wars and tragedies long past, a vision of an America that no longer exists.
In truth, however, the music of Springsteen holds a universality that surpasses all differences between the writer and the listener – if you’ve ever felt burdened, or trapped, or lost, the Boss has felt it too, and he’s written it down in perfect verse for all to connect to. When listening to a song penned by a person so far from your own self, it is a humbling experience to hear words so perfectly aligned to your own thoughts. This sudden connection is one of the truly beautiful capabilities of music, and Blinded by the Light is an ode to the sheer joy that such a connection creates.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a British-Pakistani teenager living in 1987 Luton. His surroundings are a far cry from the backstreets that Springsteen walked, yet when Javed has a cassette tape of ‘Born to Run’ bestowed upon him by school-friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), he finds that the problems he thought unique only to him are eloquently detailed in Americana song. His dreams of being a writer, prevented by his traditional father (Kulvinder Ghir) and a duty to his family, are suddenly championed in the wistful idealism of ‘The Promised Land’. ‘Dancing in the Dark’ describes the boredom Javed feels and expresses his frustration at the monotony of work. Even in his love life there is plentiful inspiration, leading to an awe-inspiring ‘Thunder Road’ serenade.
Despite an American inspiration, Blinded by the Light is committed to Javed’s story, exploring the conflict between Pakistani heritage and British surroundings with a sensitive touch. The film does not shy away from violence; the rise of the National Front and anti-Muslim sentiment is a mark burned into the shameful history of 1980s Britain. With Margaret Thatcher in power, life for those who didn’t fit the Middle Class Straight White Male box became even more onerous, with racial and religious minorities facing extreme prejudice fuelled by the far right government. (It is both poignant and horrifying that the film’s release comes so soon after the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minsiter; a man who has described Muslim women as ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’)
Whilst this essential background is given its place, however, director Gurinder Chadha never deigns to give these people the power of a name or an identity outside of their anonymous existence within the crowds of hateful protestors. Instead, each lovingly crafted character brings some form of joy to Javed’s life, from a bittersweet relationship with his ultimately good-hearted father, to his blinkered yet supportive childhood best friend. Belly-laugh humour injects happiness into many a scene, accompanied by a hearty helping of much-needed cheesiness. As our boy (for I challenge you not to see Javed as one of your own by the end of the film) sings the words to his favourite songs in public places, the initial embarrassment fades: we have all been there. When young and full of passion, faced by insurmountable obstacles, sometimes all you can do is break out your walkman and feel the lyrics that seem to speak the only truth. With corny dialogue and wholesome characters galore, Blinded by the Light is one of the most joyous cinematic experiences of the year so far.
by Megan Christopher
Megan Christopher is a freelance film and television journalist based in Manchester. Her particular filmic interest lies in portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community, mental health and women in general. She is co-founder of Much Ado About Cinema, and has written for outlets such as Little White Lies, Sight & Sound and Girls on Tops. Follow her on Twitter at @TinyFilmLesbian