Music is an international language, capable of transforming lives and uplifting spirits regardless of one’s culture. The rebellious, free-spirited sounds of Bruce Springsteen, carry that power more than most, and it’s a well director Gurinder Chadha eagerly draws from with Blinded by the Light, a crowd-pleaser that will have fans of The Boss singing along rapturously, and probably some non-fans, too.
A massive hit earlier this year at Sundance, Blinded by the Light is pretty conventional on the surface and follows many of the same themes in Chadra’s Bend It Like Beckham. But it’s the music video-style presentation that accompanies this familiar cultural coming-of-age story. with Springsteen’s lyrics popping off the screen to reflect the trials and tribulations of a young Pakistani boy, Javed (Viveik Kalra), growing up in racially-charged London of the 1980s. His father (Kulvinder Ghir), a blue-collar factory worker who has missed out on his own dreams, heaps expectations upon Javed to be a lawyer. He’s nice enough not to make his son be a doctor like other Pakistani parents would. Javed wants to be a writer, however he’s too scared to show his work to anybody outside of his teacher (Hayley Atwell), who encourages him to follow through.
With the growing unemployment rate and spreading racism during Margaret Thatcher’s administration, Javed feels lonelier than ever. But all of that changes when his Sikh friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), recognizing that look of isolation, introduces Javed to the music of Springsteen, whose words of freedom, hard work, and rebellion light a fire inside of him. That moment when Javed really feels the electricity of what he’s hearing, triggers a melodramatic montage practically ripped straight out of an early MTV video block. It’s corny and predictable, with pieces of Javed’s shredded poetry swirling in the wind to be collected later, but there’s so much passion in it you won’t care much. Another such montage, set to the iconic track “Born to Run”, is even more effective as Javed, his friend and crush Eliza (Nell Williams), and Roops race through the streets of London without a care in the world.
Such is the impact of Springsteen that we can almost overlook how thinly most of the characters are written. Javed, who is based on British writer Sarfraz Manzoor, doesn’t have much of a personality outside of his love for The Boss. He dresses like Springsteen, hangs his posters on the wall, and even goes so far as to visit every place key to the rocker’s life. But outside of that there isn’t an awful lot to him. We can all relate to Javed’s struggle to break free from the constraints placed upon him by his parents, by society, by his race, and Chadra is so good in making that story easy to understand no matter where you’re from.
A full catalog of Springsteen tracks make Blinded by the Light like a jukebox musical experience, with his lyrics perfectly etched across the screen to show their relation to Javed’s circumstances. There are certainly some that play more than others, however, and some Springsteen fatigue starts to set in as you hear the same thing repeatedly. But don’t be surprised if we see an uptick in sales of Springsteen albums, just as we saw with Queen after Bohemian Rhapsody and Elton John following Rocketman.
I’m not sure if Blinded by the Light would have the same crossover appeal on its own, but there’s no denying the effect Bruce Springsteen can have. That a regular guy from New Jersey can make music that touches the life of a Pakistani kid from across the pond, never mind the generational differences between them, show’s the potential in Chadra’s movie to unite those receptive to its message. It’s a movie with something to say, and that’s something The Boss would definitely appreciate.