Audrey Kupferberg: Blinded By The Light | WAMC

Audrey Kupferberg: Blinded By The Light

May 13, 2020

With so many folks staying at home these days, families are planning weekly movie nights.  They are searching for films that appeal to all ages and spark lively conversation after viewing.  One such film is Blinded by the Light, a 2019 release, the story of a teen-aged Pakistani-British teenager in 1987 who becomes obsessed with the works of Bruce Springsteen.

Blinded by the Light is based on the true-life story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor.  The film is written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for the very popular film, Bend It Like Beckham.  And it is hard to believe that almost twenty years have passed since that film hit the big screen!

Both Bend It Like Beckham and Blinded by the Light follow the plights of Asian teens from immigrant families who live in Britain, have adapted to British manners and customs, but have to deal with strict, strong-minded parents who have not relaxed or adjusted their traditions to accommodate the ways of their new homeland.  In Bend It Like Beckham, the family is orthodox Sikh.  In Blinded by the Light, the family is Pakistani Muslim. 

Viveik Kalra plays Javed, a likeable lad from Luton, Bedfordshire, in southeast England.  He is what most viewers would call a good kid.  But his lifestyle, although quite wholesome, does not fit the standards set by his father.  The basic dilemma is the same as in Bend It Like Beckham – a dilemma that occurs whenever immigrant people settle into new countries, new communities.  It’s a dramatic storyline that playwright Samson Raphaelson brought to life with The Jazz Singer in the 1920s – only then the traditionalists were Orthodox Jewish immigrants and the locale was New York City.

Javed wants to be a writer.  His bedroom is filled with stacks of poems that he has composed. His father, who becomes unemployed after sixteen years with a corporate giant, believes that schooling is for one reason – to get a well-paying job.  When Javed learns about the life and works of Bruce Stringsteen, he becomes obsessed with the performer – his life and his lyrics.  As a result, Javed causes his father even more displeasure.  His father really is a piece of work; as Javed enters his school, he shouts to his son so that all can hear:  “Stay away from the girls and follow the Jews (who he believes are on top academically).”

The conflicts within the plot do not stop with a family feud.  The town of Luton has skinheads who taunt Pakistanis.  Still, the film doesn’t limit itself to being a drama about prejudice and family disfunction.  There even are musical scenes that recall John Travolta in Grease.  Another sequence takes us to a secret daytime rave with Asian teens hiding out from their parents to shed their school uniforms and don spangled costumes and cavort under the colored lights of a covert dancehall. 

Throughout this movie are moments of high-minded goals for teens.  In fact, the film demonstrates ideals for all of us to follow.  At the start is the Springsteen quote: “Talk about a dream. Try to make it real.” 

The film offers good values.  At several points, the important work of a fine and caring teacher is noted.  Also stressed is the vital work of writers and the fact that they can change the world.

Blinded by the Light isn’t a brilliant film, but the travails of Javed and the ways in which he deals with his problems are noteworthy.  The film is fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining.  Most of all, it is a springboard for family discussion.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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