Bruce Springsteen has been an international icon for almost 50 years. Releasing such big hits as “Born to Run”, “Born in the U.S.A.”, and “The River”, he became the true definition of Americana. Despite suffering from depression, The Boss has released an autobiography entitled Born to Run (of course) and is still making music to this day. His new album, Western Stars, contains a more folksy vibe (compared to his early work) featuring brass and orchestra music. As a result, not only is the album a bona-fide masterpiece, it also speaks true about people’s lives–hopes, fears, and everything in between.
One of the artist’s massive fans is Sarfraz Manzoor, a British journalist from Pakistan whose life has changed when a classmate from school introduces him to the music of Bruce, which helps him parallel between the lyrics and his personal life. This is the set-up for the latest hit from Sundance, Blinded by the Light, which Manzoor co-wrote the screenplay with director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) and Paul Mayeda Berges.
Set in Luton, England, in 1987, where Margaret Thatcher is U.K.’s Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan is U.S. President, Javed Khan (newcomer Viveik Kalra) is a Pakistani teenager living with his parents (Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra) and sisters Yasmeen (Tara Divina) and Shazia (Nikita Mehta). As an aspiring poet, he’s struggling to make a living after father Malik gets laid off at the local General Motors automobile plant. Not only that, he’s also getting constantly bullied by his neighbors and peers at his new school. One day, his classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some cassette tapes of The Boss (“Whose boss?” Javed asks. “The boss of us all,” Roops responds). Javed begins to understand his family situation.
If Blinded by the Light decided to take place in rural America (for example, Iowa or Nebraska), it would be fine. However, I doubt it would hold as big of an impact as to what Chadha brings through her directing and screenwriting. The movie never talks down to its audience; instead, giving them a sense of inspiration and wonder. They have control on what they thrive. That’s how Springsteen’s lyrics correspond to Javed’s lifestyle. I love the scene where Javed and Roops pull a prank at the local college radio station, where they lock the doors while “Born to Run” plays on the record player. They both run out of the school while singing and dancing to the song, which is symbolic for Javed escaping his life to pursue something special.
21-year-old Kalra is a revelation as Javed, who tries to succeed as a writer while getting the support from his family, especially his father. The audience cracks a smile whenever Javed turns on his Walkman to hear the lyrics for “Dancing in the Dark” and “The Promised Land” and when he sings his heart out to “Thunder Road” (Bollywood style!) to his new girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams, Game of Thrones). Also, it’s hard not to feel his frustration in his household. Ghir’s Malik is portrayed as a strict father who expects his son to be successful in these harsh times, even though he disagrees with Javed’s taste in music. Hayley Atwell has a minor yet effective role as Ms. Clay, Javed’s writing teacher who becomes his only positive influence. When he shows her the poems he has written, she sees a lot of potential (the last act really hits home).
Blinded by the Light is the movie the world needs right now. It’s filled with wit, charm, emotion, excellent music, and great acting. This and Rocketman are among my favorites of 2019 thus far. I will watch them for the rest of my life.