“My dream is to build a bridge to my dreams, but not a wall between my family and me.”Viveik Kalra, Blinded by the Light
Release Date: August 16th, 2019. Dir: Gurinder Chadha
Blinded by the Light is the story of Javed, a Pakistani boy living in England during the 1980’s. The story is set during the economic downturn and during peak anti-Asian sentiments. After Javed’s father loses his job, Javed feels no hope for his future. As an aspiring writer, Javed is forced to shove aside his own dreams in order to conform to the expectations of his father. His life is characterized by a feeling of loneliness and misunderstanding until he meets Roops. Roops in turn introduces him to Bruce Springsteen. Hearing Springsteen’s messages about the working class and the desire to escape a predetermined life, Javed is suddenly inspired to pursue his own dreams. This is a coming of age story that emphasizes the power of music and the importance of finding your own voice.
As my last review was another Gurinder Chadha film, I decided to rewatch Blinded by the Light. This is one of those movies that’s meant to shed light on the immigrant experience. Unlike Bend it Like Beckham, this movie is much more raw. There is a strong emphasis on the racism that was shown towards immigrant families (specifically in England, but it is very applicable to the United States as well). Chadha makes it clear that the immigrant experience was not at all easy. Javed’s father has no college education and despite putting in sixteen years at a factory, he was laid off. His father’s desperation causes him to take out his own fears on his family by forcing Javed’s mother to work harder and putting pressure on Javed to do something that will make the family a lot of money. Javed is a talented writer and this doesn’t escape the notice of his English teacher. This is the central conflict of the story; the emphasis on choosing family or chasing your dream. But, the conclusion is satisfying because it shows that you don’t have to choose both to be happy.
I’m an avid fan of Bruce Springsteen and hearing his music in a movie that reflected some of my experiences growing up was more than enough for me to enjoy this movie. But, I have to compliment this movie’s ability to make this movie a musical without making it overwhelming. The music is central to Javed’s character development, but not necessarily the plot. If this movie had been a traditional musical, the characters would be singing every line, which would’ve taken away from the quality of the movie because the focus isn’t singing or Springsteen’s rhythms. The focus here is the words and lyrics. Since Javed is a writer, it makes sense that the lyrics would be the important part and since none of the actors are particularly good singers, the movie places an emphasis on the universal nature of music. The way the movie displays the best, in my opinion, comes in two scenes. The first is the initial listening of the music. The lyrics are displayed on screen in a way that frames Javed, as though he is a representation of the words. The second scene comes when a group of boys are being incredibly racist towards Javed and Roops, so wanting to stand up, Javed begins to recite the words to Badlands. The idea here is that music gives those who don’t have a voice the ability to speak up. In using music to find his voice, Javed emphasizes that while Springsteen’s target audience might not be an English-Pakistani student, his words speak to everyone.
The last part that I want to touch on is the development of the relationship between Javed and his father. There is a strong portrayal of both sides of the story. We see Javed’s father in moments of weakness and how these moments lead to Javed’s anger and self-suppression. Javed’s father feels a duty towards his family and community to uphold the tradiational Muslim ideas of unconditionally helping each other out (I’ve found this to be an accurate portrayal of the Muslim community and I love that this is included in the story), but it comes at a cost to his relationship with his family. By learning to accept the differences between his childhood and the lives of his children, he eventually redeems himself in the eyes of his son. But, this doesn’t mean that Javed is completely innocent. The tears in their relationship come from Javed believing in a single story and when both sides are finally understood, the relationship grows stronger and the resentment begins to fade. The movie strength is in showing the whole story from the start so that the movie appeals to both parents and children. The parents can understand where the actions of Javed’s dad come from and the children can understand where Javed’s feelings come from.
I recommend this movie for the insight on the political and economic turmoil that took place in England, strong character development, and a wildly entertaining plot. But, above all, I recommend this movie for anyone who has ever had a song change their life because that is truly a universal feeling.