The year is 1987. The protagonist of this story is a teenager living in Luton, England by the name of Javed Khan. His parents, Malik and Noor, emigrated from Pakistan many years ago. Although he has lived most of his life in the United Kingdom to the point where he speaks fluent English, he is still subject to significant racial discrimination due to his Pakistani heritage, which is in turn exacerbated by his poor upbringing. Many of these problems are brought on by highly conservative political climate dominating Western civilization at the time. Javed enjoys contemporary rock music, much to Malik’s annoyance. One day, he meets another South Asian student at his new school named Roops. This student introduces him to a musician known in many circles as “The Boss”.
The latter half of the 2010s spawned an unusually high number of biographical features following the lives of prominent musicians. These efforts included F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton in 2015, Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018, and Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman in 2019, which chronicled the trials and tribulations of N.W.A., Queen, and Elton John respectively. These filmmakers went about making their works in distinct ways with Mr. Gray and Mr. Singer opting for more traditional narratives and Mr. Fletcher electing to make a jukebox musical out of his subject.
For her own biographical feature, Director Gurinder Chadha goes about approaching her subject in a more roundabout way. While most films logically star the musician in the lead role, Ms. Chadha weaves a narrative that depicts the impact one with as much prestige as Bruce Springsteen would have on listeners. Moreover, while musicians from all walks of life can point to the predecessors who had the most impact on them, this particular inspiration jumps between mediums.
Blinded by the Light is inspired by the life of Sarfraz Manzoor – a prominent journalist who contributed to The Guardian and presented documentaries on BBC Radio 4. Ms. Chadha’s film makes a clear case that Bruce Springsteen managed to enjoy as much success as he did due to the timeless applicability of his songs. In a period spanning from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Mr. Springsteen would write songs about the plight of the lower classes in New Jersey. As it turns out, these songs still resonate nearly a decade later with a Pakistani boy who lives in Britain. Although Malik expresses skepticism that an American could never possibly understand what they’re going through, the situations aren’t so different. The lyrics about how much the working class gets pushed around become especially relevant when Malik, despite proving to be one of his company’s most loyal employees, is unceremoniously laid off.
Fittingly, the film itself has a lot of applicability. This is because Blinded by the Light, at its core, presents a story that many creative people have gone through. It presents a common discrepancy between a man who had to give up on him dreams for the sake of surviving and a son with the capacity to make them into reality in spite of his modest living conditions. What I like about this conflict is that, while Malik is depicted as close-minded, the audience can sympathize with him. After all, these ideas his son has are just that – ideas. They’re not tangible, immediately obvious advantages afforded by a high-paying job that indulges not in creativity, but rather hard work.
The generational gap is also evident in the form of one particular supporting character – a veteran from the Second World War named Mr. Evans. Much of the family’s grief is caused by the far-right political party called the National Front. Since their founding in 1967, they have actively promoted fascist, racist beliefs, pushing for the government to forbid immigration while attempting to force foreigners out of the country. Mr. Evans notes the sad irony of having fought men bearing swastikas alongside his friends four decades prior only to see the youth of today wearing the symbols of hatred proudly and openly. While Javed’s parents have their reservations about their son’s creative side, Mr. Evans actively encourages the young man to never let it go.
Despite this, Javed’s admiration for Mr. Springsteen doesn’t always set him on the right path. On the day of his sister’s wedding processional, Javed leaves them to purchase tickets for one of Mr. Springsteen’s concert. As a result, he completely misses the National Front’s violent demonstration, which culminates one of their members severely wounding Malik. Understandably, Javed’s girlfriend, Eliza, is furious at him for doing this and Malik later destroys the tickets when he learns the truth. To add insult to injury, the tickets in question were never in any danger of being sold out.
In the end, Blinded by the Light makes a sophisticated point on what one should do with their inspiration. The film is named after one of Mr. Springsteen’s most famous songs, but it also is a reference to Javed’s story. Although his music speaks about universal themes, Javed made the mistake of blindly following the words to the letter rather than upholding their spirit. It is common for those aiming for an especially erudite standard to cite famous quotes before they begin their piece. However, while it may cause the individual to appear learned from a superficial standpoint, anyone can take the words of another. The distinction separating the truly talented from everyone else lies in what they do with their inspiration.
After having combatted his parents every step of the way, Javed eventually accepts that his story isn’t so different. They made a decision that flew in the face of their own parents’ wishes by leaving Karachi. This causes him to disregard the essay he prepared and instead talks about how the song “Blinded by the Light” is a direct parallel to his father’s troubles. This moves everyone in the room, and Javed is able to reconcile with Eliza and his parents. For good measure, Malik develops his own appreciation of Mr. Springsteen’s music.
One of the more interesting aspects of when an artist becomes popular is seeing their impact on pop culture. Bruce Springsteen is an interesting case because his albums sold millions of copies, yet many forget the meaning behind his lyrics. “Born in the U.S.A.” is an especially common victim of this phenomenon. It’s commonly interpreted as an anthem of nationalistic pride despite actually being about the Vietnam War veterans’ despondence upon returning home from the conflict – spat upon by the very people their government told them to protect. Despite what many people may insist, those who make this mistake aren’t degenerates with short attention spans – it’s easy to disregard messages of songs you’ve heard several times on the radio.
The reason this bears mentioning is because it is through watching Blinded by the Light that one can get a newfound appreciation for Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics. It’s not too often that biographical features choose to focus on those inspired by the central subject. Outside of stock footage and a few photographs at the end of the film, Bruce Springsteen doesn’t appear at all. It’s even rarer for a film such as this to depict a cross-medium inspiration. Combined with its good mixture of comedy and drama, Blinded by the Light is a film that deserves your attention. It’s a treat if you like Bruce Springsteen’s music and even if you don’t, there’s plenty of charm to carry the experience through to the end.
Final Score: 7/10