Blinded by the Light (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Gurinder Chadha, UK, 2019, 117 mins

Cast:  Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nell Williams

Review by Carol Allen

In the years since their parents relocated to the UK the children of our Asian population are now adult, indeed some of them middle aged.  

And the playwrights, film makers and novelists among them have drawn on their experience of growing up in this country to give us an enlightening and entertaining picture of their lives.  To name but a few:  Meera Syal’s Anita and Me, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East and Gurinder Chadha, whose first film as director, written by Syal, was the delightful Bhaji on the Beach and who brought the phrase “Bend it”, as in Bend It Like Beckham, into common parlance.

For Blinded by the Light, Chadha returns to that teenage experience.   Set in 1987, the era of Thatcherism and high unemployment, it is based on a memoir by author-journalist Sarfraz  Mansour.   This time however her protagonist’s passion is not football but music, specifically the songs of Bruce Springsteen, one of which gives the film its title.

16 year old Javed (Viveik Kalra) lives on a bland estate in Luton with his parents Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) and Noor (Meera Ganatra) and his two sisters.   Malik is a traditional Pakistani father, with strong, indeed inflexible ideas about how his children should lead their lives.  Javed however dreams of becoming a writer, one of the many things which bring him into conflict with his father.  He has a best mate Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), who tries to turn Javed on to his own rock music passions and find him a girlfriend but Javed’s epiphany comes when he makes a new friend at sixth form college, Roops (Aaron Phagura), who gives him a cassette tape (this is the eighties) of Bruce Springsteen songs.  Songs whose lyrics in particular speak to Javed and give expression to his own thoughts and feelings.

This is a very likeable film which neatly nails the role pop music plays in teenage years and young adulthood in finding our own voice and identity.   Be it the cool jazz and Sinatra crooning of the fifties, the Beatles and Stones in the sixties, David Bowie or the Pet Shop Boys et al, as Noel Coward once said “Strange how potent cheap music is” – I apologies for the word “cheap” in this context!

The other important element of growing up that the film pinpoints so accurately is the conflict between parent and child.  Although Malik is overbearing in the way he controls every aspect of his family’s lives, including their personal finances, he is not a tyrant.  And as he starts to lose control along with his job as part of the rising tide of eighties unemployment, he becomes a rather tragic figure.  We are still however, remembering our own struggles with our parents and rooting for Javed to be able to live his life as he dreams of it.  Nice quiet support here from Ganatra as Javed’s hard working mother.

The way the musical numbers are handled is not as successful as in Chada’s Bollywood Bride and Prejudice take on Jane Austen.   They are actually a bit naff in their treatment.   The middle aged white characters, particularly Rob Brydon in a silly wig as Matt’s market stall holder dad and Hayley Atwell as Javed’s too perfect supportive teacher, are a bit cliché.  And the film does all get a touch sentimental towards the end.

The sense of period however is spot on with the rise of the National Front and its racist hatred slogans and bullying adding a disturbing chill to the warmth of the film.   And the young actors, who also include Nell Williams as the girlfriend Javed finds for himself, are all delightful, while Kalra himself is a young talent to watch.

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