Netflix UK film review: Blinded by the Light
Ivan Radford | On 21, Dec 2019
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Kulvinder Ghir
Watch Blinded by the Light online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?” That’s the question asked by Bruce Springsteen in 1979’s The River. In 1987, it finds its way into the head of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teenager growing up in Luton, and it sparks a fiery obsession with The Boss that inspires, uplifts and encourages him, just when he needs it most.
Because for Javed, life is a struggle: he’s not only got the usual trials and turmoils of being a teenager, but has the added challenge of racial abuse and figuring out his identity as a Pakistani teenager to deal with. On the one hand, he has to find his own voice in a working-class community. On the other, he has to balance finding that voice with pleasing his stubborn, strict and traditionally-minded father (Kulvinder Ghir).
Co-written by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, based on his own book Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll, it rings with personal authenticity, offering a nuanced, sensitive and honest insight into the woes and wishes of a young Muslim boy in Thatcherite Britain. It goes without saying that the themes and issues tackled in the film, from protest marches to assaults in the streets, bear a relevance to modern society, and the script – penned with Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges – doesn’t shy away from the pertinent questions of national and cultural integration.
But Blinded by the Light’s strength doesn’t lie in its remarkable evocation of 1980s society, but in the way it emphasises the personal over the political – and understands that the personal feels political, with the smallest of details and problems seeming like towering, urgent issues to confront. Most of all, it does this through the immediate impact of music, managing to capture on-screen the lightning-bolt affect of an acoustic medium.
Gurinder Chadha literally paints Javed’s world with Springsteen’s music, throwing his words up onto the buildings around him as he listens to cassette tapes given him by cool older pupil Roops (the wonderfully laidback Aaron Phagura). The Boss is a “direct line to all that is true in this shitty world”, Roops tells his young friend, and Blinded by the Light taps into the way that the best music does feel like that. It takes the specifics of Javed’s individual situation and turns them into an ode to the universal power of music – and its ability to live on, not just from one decade to the next, but, for the audience sitting at home, for a whole new generation.
Blinded by the Light is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.