Monday, 12 August 2019

Film: 'Blinded by the Light'

Here we have yet another in what has become a sequence of films revolving around pop music of decades past.  This time, however improbable (though based on a true story), it concerns a 16/17-year old student  (Viveik Kaira) in a Pakistani family living in Luton  (one of the large British towns with the highest proportion of Asian-origin population) in 1987 with an obsession for the songs of....... Bruce Springsteen (yes, really!)  It's based on the true life experience of Sarfraz Mansoor, who, in recent years, has become quite well known in British media circles - and whom, I do believe I very briefly encountered (amiably) in Luton in the early 90s, though he won't recall it.

Director is Gurinder Chadha who has created a notable niche for herself in British-Asian based films in the last two dozen or so years - 'Bhaji on the Beach', 'Bride and Prejudice', 'Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging'  - and her best known to date, 2002's likeable 'Bend it like Beckham'.  

In this film, with a talent for writing articles and poems, the young aspiring writer is floating directionless under the concerned eye of his strict Muslim father (Kulvinder Ghir) who wants him to have a steady, reliable job with regular income, and with whom he lives along with his keeping-head-down mother and socially aware teenage sister, superficially conformist.  At college he meets a young Sikh (Aaron Phagura) who introduces him to the songs of Springsteen - and which brings him to a 'lightbulb' moment!   
All this is set against a very evident background of Mrs Thatcher's divisive premiership in a town where, in particular, anti-Asian prejudice is rife (though basically anything non-white English) seen through racist graffiti on homes, openly hostile conduct, intimidating presence of the National Front (now morphed into the 'English Defence League') and some appalling and disgusting behaviour from the latter and their sympathisers.

The young man's epiphanous moment of awareness of Springsteen's lyrics is during the hurricane night of October 1987, when he puts on a tape he'd been given - a night when I, living in Oxford at the time and not having heard the warnings, had simply slept through those hours of the strongest and most destructive winds to hit Britain in a century!
Springsteen's lyrics (seen floating on-screen and swirling round his head, which is just as well as I found them not easy to decipher by ear alone) give him the confidence to acquire a regular girlfriend (Nell Williams) the untypical daughter of hoity-toity Tory parents.  

Much of the drama of the story lies in the conflict between father and son over the latter's writing ambitions, his down-to-earth father preferring to see his son in a secure, steady-income occupation, the situation being exacerbated by the father himself being laid off with hundreds of others from the nearby car-making plant, leaving the mother as the family's sole bread-winner through her home sewing work. Of course the young man continues to aspire towards his own dreams, encouraged by his sympathetic college tutor (Hayley Atwell).   

I thought the first hour of this two hour film (too long by at least 20 mins) was first-class. Then it not only sags conspicuously but gets very bleak with a drastic mood change when racial matters come right to the fore. Also I felt let down by, despite it being true story-based, how in predictably filmic style, the conflict between father and son is finally resolved by the cheesiest of developments when the father comes round to seeing his own error - something we've witnessed countless times on film before  - and in revelatory mode he turns into being proud of his son's achievements, accepting him as a talented writer. Wince-inducing stuff!  

Overall I did like the film. If it hadn't been based on reality I'd have laughingly dismissed the unlikely premise of a young Pakistani kid being so influenced by Springsteen, a singer who was already considered as getting 'past it' at the time this film is set. But given how it is I must accept that this was near to what actually had happened.

I wish I could have rated this film higher but that over-extended second half did have some nasty edges to it, and that unbelievably banal ending devalued much of what had gone before. Still, by no means a bad watch........6.5.

(IMDb...........6.2 / Rott.Toms (critics only)............7.4 )


  1. Another one I don't fancy
    I need to reignite my cinematic mojo raymondo

    1. It won't be such a great loss if you miss this, JayGee, If anyone is a particular fan of songs from 'The Boss' then that might be a valid spur to go.

  2. I'm on the fence about this. It seems horribly predictable and while I like Springsteen music, i don't love it. There are a few other films coming out I'd opt over this - but it will all be based on what is out there at the time.

    1. Your opinion on the music of 'The Boss' is exactly as mine is, B. - pleasant enough to be liked but not enough to rave about.
      As this film is so very British-based - specifically English - I'm not sure how an audience outside these shores will respond to it - though, of course, prejudice is basically prejudice everywhere. Maybe it's a film to see if one has nothing better to do.