What do you get when you cross race and religion with rock ‘n’ roll? A memoir published by British Journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor about just that. And ‘Blinded by the Light’ is a film adapted by just that, with multilayered moral messages.
‘Greetings from Bury Park’ was personally penned by Manzoor and published in 2007. 12 years later, his turbulent teen years are being reincarnated for the silver screen by Bend it Like Beckham Director, Gurinder Chadha.
Set in the late 80’s under Thatcherite rule, the film follows Javed (Viveik Kalra) through his plight during his formative years as a British Pakistani living in a lackluster Luton. In fulfilling the Chadha formula, the film deftly handles politics and prejudice, but it isn’t without its comedy. Not least The Boss who made it all possible in the first place, Bruce Springsteen, which teeters on Musical territory.
Despite some echoes of Bend it Like Beckham, this one zeroes in on the soul of a jaded Javed, jolted alive by the songs of Springsteen that would go on to shape his life the better and maybe those around him. Chadha liberally fuses the rock music to reflect an even rockier Britain, plotted purposefully to unlock the next chapter of the youth’s Springsteen inspired life story.
Ironically the film is akin to most of the feel-good films that were actually made in the 80s. Think ‘Stand by Me’, ‘The Breakfast Club’ or ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, and Blinded by the Light is unapologetically a coming-of-age film of similar ilk, except laced with racial prejudices, domestic discord and government politics that are still prevalent today.
In a recent declaration published in The Guardian, Manzoor wrote: “I had hoped that the tales of my teenage years would, with each year, read more and more like a dispatch from a long gone era. Younger readers would greet them with horrified fascination and a renewed gratitude for how much things had changed. It turns out that things have not changed as much as I had hoped. The old fragility has returned”.
Be that as it may, the film finds its relief through some romanticised revelations – most, no, all of which are centred on Bruce. This starts at college, after a stroke of serendipity with soon-to-be-friend, Roops (Aaron Phagura) who introduces Javed to ‘The Boss’. The rest is well, not history, but the present(?)
We know from the outset Javed wants to be more than the son his dad expects him to be, so the threat of being ostracised is always looming. But combine that with the struggles of social integration and the National Fron at its peak, Javed’s only salvation is the songs of Springsteen. And he channels his teenage angst into writing poems and sometimes lyrics, conveniently for his best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), who’s in a band. But Javed doesn’t quite know what he wants out of life yet and it isn’t until his English teacher, Ms Clay (Hayley Atwell) cloyingly encourages him to pursue a career in writing because he is evidently adept but woefully withdrawn.
It’s cliché but his disapproving father continues to douse Javed’s ignited new passion, because the sole priority is staving off financial abyss after being laid-off from his factory job. Anyone with a logical mind would say that’s understandable. Not that Javed’s illogical; he’s just enamoured by ‘the possibilities’. Before tackling The Great Storm of 1987 to take out some rubbish (his literatures) he returns to his bedroom to pop his ‘Bruce cherry’, Roop’s words, not mine. Then literal lightning strikes and he is henceforth blinded by the light.
The lyrics of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ appear on screen in a whirlwind of words and they flow through Javed’s head – almost intoxicated by the lyrics. Inebriated to the point of delusional immortality. At this point, nothing can come in Javed’s way. He is liberated, inspired and ready to rebel. What follows is a back-and-forth between what Javed insists he wants, what Ms Clay decides he wants, and what his dad doesn’t want. But Malik claims he’s not like other dads telling their sons to be Doctors; instead to be a Lawyer, Accountant or Estate Agent.
In spite of this, Javed cleaves to the hope that Springsteen has imbued in him. So one good experience leads to a better one, then the next one and then the next one. Including a lifetime opportunity to visit the home of Springsteen himself, where audiences are treated to a cheesy polaroid-shot, montage sequence of his journey from Bury Park, Luton, to Asbury Park, New Jersey. It’s all well and cute until he realises what austere reality waits for him at home.
This is reinforced by an earlier moment when Javed’s caught watching a Springsteen documentary on TV, telling viewers his song writing is concerned with bleak matters. How then, does Javed transcend the banal?
It’s the hope it instils.
Whether you’re a Springsteen super fan or not, the film is a delightful depiction of how music possesses a powerful hold of our emotions. It changes us, it influences us and it shapes us.
With his all-encompassing and compulsory assembly speech, we know by now that if Javed was blinded by the light before, he’s got his eyes wide open now. Because like the young lad says: “success without parents doesn’t really mean success”.
‘Greetings from Bury Park is written by Sarfraz Manzoor and published by Bloomsbury.
‘Blinded by the Light’ is released in cinemas on 9 August.