The Boss lights the way in ‘Blinded’
For many of us, the soundtrack we choose as teens can help define us as much as our family or the friends we made. For me as a late ‘80s teen, the emergence of rap and electronic music filled many a crudely made mixtape cassette that was slipped into my Walkman (those younger than 25 reading this may have to Google “cassette” and “Walkman”). But there was one musician who was a stalwart in the endless loop of music that filled my life. Young MCs may come, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood may go, but Bruce Springsteen has managed to be a mainstay of my eclectic musical influences throughout life.
Like Javed, the British Pakistani who is the effervescent hero of “Blinded by the Light,” I can recall with clarity the first time someone handed me my first store-bought Springsteen tapes (my father, who came home with “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” and “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”). For the following decades, his raw emotional tales, travails of small-town yearnings, and various adolescent pursuits seemed like the secret diary I never kept.
That sentiment was apparently shared by writer Sarfraz Manzoor, on whose memoir the film is based. He is fictionalized as Javed (played by Viveik Kalra), a transplanted teen in the late ‘80s dealing with unrequited love, a domineering dad, and both casual and aggressive racism in Margaret Thatcher's Britain.
Javed wants to break free of these working-class shackles and make it to university to pursue his writing career. One fateful day, a classmate (played by Aaron Phagura) slips him a couple tapes from The Boss, and in his words, Javed finds a connection that inspires him to follow his passion in ways he never thought possible.
Cinematically, “Blinded by the Light” is a fairly rote teen comedy, with amusing flashback fashions and a smattering of chuckles. The cinematography is fairly straightforward, without much flourish. And narratively, it’s rather unremarkable in its approach to familial conflict, mounting obstacles and inevitable conclusions. But as the minutes tick on, there is an infectious, beatific tone, from both lead Kalra’s performance and “Blinded’s” unending positive drive, that gives the film wings.
Of course, it is further elevated by its handling of Springsteen’s music, which flutters back and forth between Javed’s headphones to non-diegetic soundtrack to the film itself, with the musician’s words punctuating the screen to represent their impact. Kalra aside, the rest of the cast is relatively adequate, with the exception of Javed’s father, played by Kulvinder Ghir. He is initially the embodiment of Springsteen’s own father (of whom the musician often speaks in his concerts). But as we begin to see Dad’s struggles to support his family, the actor shades his domineering facade with a sweet vulnerability.
The film’s climax does feel a tad forced, and it bounces back from its heavier themes rather resiliently, but that also seems to be the world in which it exists, dreamlike and just short of reality. But it refreshingly speaks of the universality of music and its ability to transcend geography, whether you are switchbade lovers from a Jersey beach town or Muslims in the United Kingdom who want to get out while they’re young. Cuz tramps like us ...