Blinded by the Light

Proof that plaid never goes out of style
Verdict: 
8/10 - Gurinder Chadha's Blinded by the Light contains a heartwarming plot and stand-out performance from newcomer Viveik Kalra.
Release Date: 
Friday, August 9, 2019
Written by: 

Blinded by the Light follows a teenager as he finds his own voice in the austere days of late 1980s Britain.

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With a coming-of-age story and a captivating lead star, Gurinder Chadha's Blinded by the Light will no doubt draw comparisons to her 2002 hit Bend It Like Beckham.

But while there are some thematical similarities, that's where the majority of parallels end, with the new film inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, and following the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teenager of Pakistani descent who is growing up in the suburbs of Luton, England in 1987.

Amid the racial and economic turmoil of Margaret Thatcher's Britain, Javed writes as means of escaping the prejudice he faces from strangers and the overprotective behaviour of his traditional father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir).

Yet, when a fellow high school student Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen, a fire is ignited in the youngster, who finds parallels between his working-class environment and The Boss's socially conscious lyrics.

Along with a bit of encouragement from a kind neighbour and his English teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), Javed begins to find the courage to start penning his thoughts in the form of poems, song lyrics and essays, with each page turning out to be a cathartic outlet for his dreams, especially in the face of racially-charged protests in his town and the suffocating atmosphere in his home.

 

Rather than make a conventional jukebox musical, Chadha incorporates Springsteen's songs seamlessly into the narrative, with the youngster tuning into classics like Hungry Heart, Thunder Road, and Badlands via cassettes on his Walkman, with the director choosing to display the lyrics in a creative way on the screen.

This visual device works to emphasise the gritty nature of the lyrics while simultaneously introducing the words and their meaning to a whole new generation of viewers, though there is one sequence set to Born to Run that stands out due to its high energy and careful choreography.

Nostalgia for the time period is also evoked in the inclusion of other '80s hits, like Pet Shop Boys and A-ha, as well as in the mise-en-scene of local markets, the teased hair and frosted eyeshadow of Javed's love interest Eliza (Nell Williams) and the leather jackets and glam rock style of pal Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman).

Springsteen's music certainly provides plenty of momentum for the plot, but it is really newcomer Kalra's subtle yet convincing performance that grounds the story, and he is certainly one to watch.

Ghir nails Javed's demanding father, and in a moment in which he is faced with the prospect of unemployment, it's impossible not to feel devastated.

Atwell is nearly unrecognisable in her part and delivers a reliable character, while also be sure to catch cameos from Rob Brydon and Sally Phillips.

Yes, some aspects of Javed's journey may resemble other plots of some Hollywood films, especially an inspirational school speech scene, but with Chadha's smart handling, Blinded by the Light builds to a heartwarming conclusion.

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