Blinded by the Light

by Toby Woollaston

There is a sense of earnest confidence found in Gurinder Chadha’s films. She began her feature directing career in fine style with the excellent Bhaji on the Beach before going on to bend the establishment, Beckham style, and in the process booting Keira Knightley into stardom. Blinded by the Light adds another solid chapter to Chadha’s career, whose films encourage you to check your cynicism at the door and be swept away by her bold enthusiasm.

Blinded by the Light is a true story, based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Manzoor, played here as Javed by newcomer Viveik Kalra. Growing up in the eighties backwater of Britain’s Luton town, the soft-natured but free-spirited Javed longs to become a writer but is hobbled by his overbearing parents, racism and the economic confines of Thatcher’s depressed Britain.

It’s a familiar east-meets-west culture clash story but spiced up by Chadha’s delightfully engaging direction. Similar to Bend it Like Beckham, Javed’s story uses the celebrated work from one of the world’s most iconic celebs (in this instance, Bruce Springsteen) to find common ground between two cultures, examining that volatile point where traditions and desires collide … all to the backdrop of the Boss’s lyrical anthology.

As Javed pursues his dream, the film busies itself by turning up the eighties nostalgia to eleven. A slew of eighties iconography; cassette tapes, geometric fluro designs, synth pop and more hair than a Rodney Wayne advert are paraded to hilarious effect. And, although there are some moments that don’t quite work as intended, Chadha manages to make the film’s faults feel more endearingly amateurish rather than an embarrassing misstep.

Its eighties musical sensibility will no doubt remind many of John Carney’s exceptional Sing Street. And while Blinded certainly doesn’t have Sing Street’s polish, it matches it for warmth and charm. As Javed’s school principal says “the Twiglets and Chardonnay will be flowing” which may well be code for laughs and tears, because Blinded provides plenty. It’s life-affirming, heartfelt and a lot of fun.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.