Viveik Karla in Blinded by the Light (Photo: Warner)
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Gurinder Chadha
STARS Viveik Karla, Nell Williams
Inspired by a true story, Blinded by the Light details how music has the ability to infuse, illuminate and invigorate a life.
Adapted from Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock ‘N Roll, Blinded by the Light (scripted by director Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Manzoor himself) is set in 1980s England, when Margaret Thatcher was happily destroying the country from within. Living in Luton is Javed Khan (the Manzoor surrogate, played by Viveik Karla), a Pakistani lad who’s trying to fit in even as his strict father Malik (Kuvinder Ghir) insists he reject all Western influences and hold onto Pakistani traditions.
With unemployment soaring and racist punks spraying offensive graffiti on neighborhood walls, Javed feels trapped and longs for escape. He receives it from fellow student Roops (Aaron Phagura), who hands him two audiocassettes featuring “The Boss.” Javed listens to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and is instantly transfixed and transformed. Feeling that the music is speaking not only to him personally but to everyone who is like him, he becomes a Springsteen fanatic, a development that informs his decisions as he acquires a girlfriend (Nell Williams), shares his poetry with his English teacher (Hayley Atwell), and decides to stand up to his well-meaning but rigid father.
Like this summer’s sleeper hit Yesterday, Blinded by the Light serves as another ode to classic rock and all that it represents, from its ability to unlock the imagination to its function as a balm in troubled times. With its focus on a country reeling under the rule of a right-wing oppressor and its sequences dealing with unbridled racism (one of the climactic set-pieces centers around a march by white supremacists), Blinded by the Light is certainly topical. It’s also universal in its concerns (it’s but a stone’s throw from Thatcher’s Britain to Trump’s AmeriKKKa), although there is plenty of specificity related to its time and place.
To label Blinded by the Light as merely a “feel-good” film would be inaccurate, since there’s plenty of darkness — on the edge of town and elsewhere. The specter of bigotry haunts many scenes, and the generation-gap battles between Javed and his dad are presented with appropriate harshness. Ultimately, though, the good vibrations do win out, thanks to Karla’s bright performance, Manzoor’s real-life triumph, and, of course, a killer soundtrack that rules like a boss.