Blinded by the Light

 

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In the footsteps of Bend It Like Beckham comes another Gurinder Chadha film about youthful aspirations.

 
Blinded by the Light

Viveik Kalra and Nell Williams

 

Gurinder Chadha is undoubtedly a mainstream director, one who always hopes to appeal to a mass audience, but that doesn't prevent her from putting her own recognisably personal stamp on every film that she makes. Although her name appears here, as so often alongside that of Paul Mayeda Berges on the writing credits, the key writer this time is Sarfraz Manzoor since Blinded by the Light is an adaptation of the memoir that he wrote inspired by his love for the music of Bruce Springsteen. The film that has emerged is heartfelt (a quality apparent in every film made by Chadha) but disconcertingly it's also decidedly a mishmash, albeit a very personal one.

 

The central character is Javed (Viveik Kalra). He is a teenage Pakistani growing up in Luton where he attends a local college and is encouraged in his writing interests - poems, journalism - by his English teacher (Hayley Atwell). But there's no such support at home since his dad, Malek (Kulvinder Ghir), is a patriarch of the old school ruling his whole family and Javed in particular with a rod of iron even though this is 1987. Nervous about asserting himself, Javed gains a new determination to fulfil his dreams when a fellow student (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the songs of Bruce Springsteen and Javed finds inspiration in lyrics that are speaking directly to him.

 

As that description suggests, Blinded by the Light is a feel-good movie and, despite drawing on actual events, it could have adopted throughout a consistently larger than life tone (indeed it takes a further step away from realism when in addition to featuring soundtrack recordings by Springsteen it borrows from Asif Kapadia's Amy to show the important lyrics actually written up and superimposed on the screen). At the other extreme, however, Chadha understandably feels the need to raise social issues so that racism generally, marches by the National Front and a marked hostility to Margaret Thatcher all find a place just as they might in a film by Ken Loach.

 

That is not, though, the end of the mishmash: the middle of the road element includes Javed's romance with a girl reacting against her Tory parents (that's Eliza played by Nell Williams), the stylisation extends to include a song or two performed by the cast suddenly accompanied by an invisible orchestra (here Chadha echoes Dexter Fletcher, director of Rocketman) and the personal drama leads the film to a weepie climax as father and son are reconciled. That reconciliation is the weakest element, however, since it needs a more detailed and nuanced screenplay if it is to capture the underlying pathos of a patriarch whose behaviour is appalling yet also sincere and then to make Malek's last-minute volte-face credible. The dedication of Blinded by the Light to our mothers and fathers confirms that Chadha wanted this degree of complexity despite choosing to make a movie unable to accommodate it believably (one scene in which Malek sheds tears is not enough to achieve this). But, in spite of the conflicts of tone, Blinded by the Light is an entertainment with its heart always in the right place and newcomer Viveik Kalra is a sympathetic central figure, his contribution suggesting that the actor could well follow in the footsteps of Dev Patel.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, Meera Ganatra, Hayley Atwell, David Hayman, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Tara Divina, Frankie Fox, Jeff Mirza, Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips, Olivia Poulet, Jo Wheatley, Gurinder Chadha.

 

Dir Gurinder Chadha, Pro Gurinder Chadha, Jane Barclay and Jamal Daniel, Screenplay Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, from Manzoor's memoir Greetings from Bury Park, Ph Ben Smithard, Pro Des Nick Ellis, Ed Justin Krish, Music A.R. Rahman, Costumes Annie Hardinge.

 

Bend It Films/Ingenious Media/Levantine Films/Rakija Films-Entertainment One.
117 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 9 August 2019. Cert. 12A.