Inspired by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s experience with Bruce Springsteen’s music, Blinded by the Light is a coming-of-age story full of joyous energy and earnestness. Gurinder Chada directs the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani-Muslim teen with ambitions of being a writer. After being introduced to The Boss, by a classmate, his life is completely changed. Fueled by Springsteen’s relatable music, Javed seeks out his passions while navigating the troubling social and economic climate of 1987 England, as well as his family’s expectations.
The story unfolds fairly conventionally, but the deep care for the characters and music makes the film spring to life. Blinded by the Light is altogether joyous, inspiring, and honest. There is a wonderful sincerity (and occasional cheesiness) to the movie that is easy to get caught up in. Chada effectively balances the harsh social issues transpiring and the feel-good coming-of-age story. The characters, social milieu and music all come together cohesively in an incredibly charming way.
Gurinder Chada is no stranger to tackling movies about culture clashes, having directed hits like Bend it like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. Here, she takes it further, addressing racism, economic struggle, rocky family dynamics and romance. The serious aspects involving discrimination and unemployment aren’t just glossed over but are prominently addressed with brutal truthfulness. We completely understand Javed’s turmoil, as he endures racist taunts, financial issues and familial pressure. Meanwhile, cultural differences are explored with wit and thoughtfulness. Chada respects both Javed’s Springsteen-inspired drive to be a writer, as well as his loyalty to his family and their traditions. The characters are able to be vulnerable, sympathetic and endearing, while also showing their shortcomings.
Meanwhile, Viveik Kalra carries the film with effortless charm. Kalra naturally channels his character’s disgruntlement and longing ambition, making him easy to connect to. We become quickly invested in Javed’s story about identity and expression. His struggle to pursue his passion, in the face of adversity — without alienating his loved ones — is a common narrative told from a refreshing perspective.
A big reason why the movie works is because of its well-integrated soundtrack. The music isn’t just empty sugar coating. Blinded by the Light always roots Springsteen’s songs in the story and characters. The music about social issues and working-class struggles uncannily reflect Javed’s poetry. Whether you’re a hardcore Bruce Springsteen fan or completely oblivious to him, the music becomes incredibly accessible since it compliments the drama. Chada explores the universality of Springsteen’s lyrics by perfectly situating them in Javed’s dissatisfied life. The music movingly speaks to his feelings and inspires his passions.
Javed’s introduction to Springsteen through “The Promised Land” is a gloriously cathartic release of emotion. As the relatable lyrics catch him by surprise, Javed dramatically charges into the stormy night, completely swept up by the music that wholly encompasses his life. The rest of the music numbers pleasantly range in style and scale. From melodramatic, semi-musical ones, to quieter, intimate types, they never feel repetitive. Even the occasional use of lyrics onscreen was an amusingly overt way to emphasize the songs’ meaning and add some visual flair.
Blinded by the Light is an irresistibly sentimental coming-of-age story. Told from the perspective of a marginalized Pakistani-English teen, the film captivatingly explores the universal power of music and the struggle of chasing one’s dreams without losing those closest. Gurinder Chada doubles down on feel-good sentimentality to create an utter delight.