I feel that in recent years, the term "fan" has been misused or sullied. Most people view it negatively. It creates the image of someone in a dark basement, sitting in front of a computer, and complaining endlessly or leaving ugly posts on various message boards and chat groups. These posts can either be for or against a certain celebrity. The mass social media culture has turned everyone into an online critic. Everyone has an opinion, and due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, nobody has to be careful with what they say. Everyone can be "off the cuff" and honest about a celebrity, and how they feel about them. And they feel it is their right, because they are a "fan".
Blinded by the Light
is a movie about true fandom, and I say that, because it is about the joy of discovering someone's work that speaks to you. In the case of this movie, it is about a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim living in a small England town in the middle of a recession in 1987. He discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, and for the first time, an artist's work truly speaks to him. He can relate to the anger and passion that Springsteen speaks and sings with. It is an experience everyone has, whether it be music like it is here, or art, film, professional sports and live theater. We all have that moment where we make a connection with an artist of some sort, and we feel like they are speaking directly to us, or that they have lived through the same frustration or situations that we have. Director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham
) has made a wonderful little film about that moment, and how important it is.
The fan in question is a kid named Javed (Viveik Kalra), who is based on a real life journalist named Sarfraz Manzoor. Manzoor wrote a memoir about how Springsteen's music impacted his youth called Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock 'n Roll
, which was the basis for this film. (Manzoor also contributed to the screenplay.) In the film, Javed is living in the town of Luton with a traditional Muslim family that is struggling to make ends meet, like a lot of the British community was doing at the time during the Margaret Thatcher era. His family is poor and foreign, which makes him the victim of racist bullying and attacks. His mom (Meera Ganatra) works out of their home as a seamstress, while his father (Kulvinder Ghir) punches the clock each day at a dead end factory job. Javed and his siblings are expected to give part of whatever money they earn to help the family scrape by, which gets even harder when his father is laid off from his job, and the mother becomes the main breadwinner on her limited income.
Javed has a lot of dreams, most of them surrounding leaving Luton behind once and for all, getting a girlfriend, and becoming a professional writer. His father forbids him from going to parties, doing much socializing, and basically wants his son to focus solely on his studies so that he can have a good life. He does not understand his son, because Javed is forced to hide so much of his dreams and personality from his parents. He writes lyrics and songs for his best friend and aspiring musician, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), but it seems like no one truly understands his desires to truly break free of the life that he feels is suffocating him. But then, a classmate (Aaron Phagura) introduces Javed to the music of Springsteen, and it is exactly what the lost and isolated teen needs in order to express himself. As Javed listens to "The Promised Land
" during the middle of a raging storm, we see the lyrics to the song float through the air, and plastered on buildings. We also see how the music reaches the teen, with Bruce's singing of troubled times, and the anger of the American working class. Javed can relate to the anger and the passion in those lyrics, and it sparks something within him.
This is the simple truth that Blinded by the Light
understands. It perfectly captures that music when a celebrity or artist, who may be on the other side of the world or a thousand miles away, reaches you and seems to be speaking directly to you with their work. The connection that Javed makes to the music convinces him that there is a way out of the life he is currently living, because for the first time, he feels like there are others going through the same troubles he has. It instills the confidence within him to not only follow his dream of being a writer, but to also take a chance with a girl at his school (Nell Williams). It also naturally creates tension with his father, who does not understand his son's sudden obsession. It even creates problems with his best friend, Matt. And even though it's fairly predictable where the story is going to go and end up, I still found myself enamored, because this is a film filled with many simple truths, wise observations, and wonderful performances.
There is an energy to the film and, even though it is not technically a musical, the Springsteen songs are so integral to the story and used to such great effect, it comes pretty close, especially during joyous scenes where the characters simply become lost in the music. It is also a drama that avoids big moments and confrontations. All of the problems that Javed faces feel natural and real, especially the ones he experiences with his father. As the dad, Kulvinder Ghir gives the best performance in the film. He is funny, sad, heartfelt, passionate, an ultimately a complex character. He is not just the strict disciplinarian that we initially expect. I truly hope that his performance can be remembered at Award Season next year. The rest of the cast is just as memorable, with many in the supporting cast getting moments to stand out, like Javed's sister (Nikita Mehta), and how she too is leading somewhat of a secret life against her traditional family upbringing.
Most of all, Blinded by the Light
is a truthful film, not just on what it truly means to be a fan, but also of the cultural and societal rifts that can form within immigrant families living outside of their home. It understands the desire of youth to create their own life and engage in their culture, but it also understands how the older generations want to keep traditions and family customs alive. This is a very smart, joyous, and just plain wonderful film that I hope you will make a point to see, because movies of this level of understanding and happiness are very rare.