At some point during the course of the year, I heard a term that was used to describe this sudden resurgence of movies about classic rock musicians and movies that feature a large classic rock soundtrack. It was called “classic rock-sploitation”. It started with the mega hit that was Bohemian Rhapsody and continued into this year with Rocketman and Yesterday. If this excessive use of classic rock is becoming a trend, then this music fan is on board for whatever comes next.
Inspired by a true story, Blinded by the Light is about a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager in Luton, England by the name of Javed Khan. Javed is an aspiring writer and the son of immigrant parents who, in his words, are “stuck in another century”. He and his family regularly get taunted by racists in the age of Margaret Thatcher. When Javed goes to a new school, he becomes friends with the only other South Asian in the school named Roops, who introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. The music inspires Javed to live his life the way he wants to, which causes a rift between him and his traditionally rigid family.
Being born and raised in New Jersey, Springsteen’s music means a lot to me. I was roughly Javid’s age when I first listened to his biggest hit “Born to Run”. His lyrics about rebellious youth and growing up working class hit me and many others. It’s no surprise that he inspired generations of youths to take chances and break the rules. A movie centering around his music was almost inevitable.
In the movie, Javed is a poet who is ready to give up on his dreams because of his family’s demands. Out of impulse, he listens to two Springsteen cassette tapes loaned to him (the albums are “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”). He begins to live by Springsteen’s words, changes his appearance and hangs up a ton of posters in his room.
Javed is played by newcomer Viveik Kalra who throughout the film recites Springsteen’s lyrics whenever he can. Kalra gives a natural and very convincing performance as a repressed Pakistani youth with big ambitions, while Kulvinder Ghir plays his stern father very well.
Gurinder Chadha’s direction is a bit scattered in places, however, changing tones and styles throughout the run time. Sometimes the lyrics appear on screen as Javed listens to “The Promised Land”, other times it doesn’t. At one point, Javed and a couple other characters take part in a song and dance number set to “Born to Run”. It happens midway through the film and never happens again. While this may serve as a bit of whiplash to other people who see the film, it didn’t really effect me negatively. It gave the film a unique charm to it.
Alongside Springsteen’s music, the story also deals with a lot of other issues that came with Thatcher’s time as prime minister. At one point, Javed’s dad gets laid off at work despite being committed to his factory job. It also deals with a lot of racism at the expense of the lead. Early on in the film, Javed gets spit on by a skinhead and the incident inspires one of his poems. All of these play important roles in Javed’s life, becoming pivotal moments in an speech he gives towards the end of the film.
Blinded by the Light is a breath of fresh air in this year of tiring summer blockbusters. It may not make a lot of money at the box office as one of the Disney remakes, but I believe that audiences will love it. Younger audiences will appreciate the coming-of-age aspect of the movie while older audiences will be humming along to Bruce Springsteen’s words. It’s a rare movie that gives everybody something they like.