BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, UK, 2019. Starring Viveik Kaira, Kulvinda Ghir, Aaron Phagura, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips. Directed by Gurinda Chadha. 117 miniutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, violence and coarse language).
On hearing the title of this film, if one were of a Scriptural bent, it might suggest something of St Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. But, even without the Pauline reference, this is a story of conversion!
The convert is a 16-year-old student from Luton, north of London, whose parents were immigrants to Britain from Pakistan. He is a pleasant youngster, Javed, and played by Viveik Kaira. His father is an ambitious man, who defied his father in leaving the subcontinent to migrate to Britain, has raised a family of three children with his quiet, quite subservient, wife, two daughters and a son. His main preoccupation is work and the making of money, supporting his family, and imposing his patriarchal expectations on his wife and children.
Not an easy road for Javed. He is something of an introspective boy, keeping a diary for several early teenage years, writing many poems, a deeply felt ambition to be a writer – but, in Margaret Thatcher’s England, with restructuring and increasing unemployment, this seems something of a dream.
His friend across the street, Matt, leads a band and Javed supplies some of the lyrics for the songs. But, in his final year at school, he is hoping to achieve straight As and go to university in Manchester.
So, this is something of a dream, something of a fantasy… And, as regards conversion, it comes in the form of a gift from a school friend, Roops, who is a fan of Bruce Springsteen (and Springsteen fans would have immediately realised this from the title of the film), and sho lends Javed a cassette and, while Javed is not struck to the ground like St Paul, the first song is a moment of grace, lyrics that Javed can identify with, that Luton is, in fact, not all that far from New Jersey, working class people, songs of real-life.
Actually, despite the difficulties, Javed is lucky to find a very sympathetic teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell) who encourages him and enables him even to visit the sacred sites of Springsteen’s New Jersey. And there is a sympathetic girl, Eliza (Nell Williams) who has condescendingly superior parents whom she loves to upset.
The film takes its audience into the difficulties of the Pakistani family, the day by day insults and spitting, the graffiti on walls, the attacks on the mosque, the neo-Nazis and their processions and supremacist attitudes and chants. There are also the problems of unemployment, scarcity of jobs, the seeming impossibility of getting out of Luton. And, there is the continued domination of the Father who has no imagination about his son’s life and ambitions.
The screenplay by director, Gurinda Chada (herself of Indian background originally from Kenya and her husband and writing partner, is both insightful and sympathetic – and one remembers that she made such entertaining films as Bend it like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice but also took audiences into the reality of Hindu and Muslim experiences during Partition in Viceroy’s House.
But, this is ultimately a feelgood film, that the impossible might sometimes be quite possible. And, interesting to note, the spate of music films coming from Britain, from Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman to the Beatles’ nostalgia of Yesterday. This is a pleasant companion piece, lower key in the story Javed, higher key in the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Universal Released July 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.