Blinded by the Light
Once again, forget what many critics are saying as the quality of this film rivals any movie you will see this year.
Isn’t it fascinating that three relatively unknown actors with genetic ties to India and Egypt have given us performances that have dominated the big screen? First it was Dev Patel in Slum Dog Millionaire (2008), Lion (2016) and Hotel Mumbai (2018). He was followed by Rami Malek with his Oscar-winning performance in Bohemian Rhapsody. Then Himesh Patel charmed us with his lead performance in this year’s magnificent Yesterday. Now we have Viveik Kalra, who gives a stunning performance as Javed, a Pakistani teenage immigrant living in Luten, England in Blinded by the Light.
Director Gurinder Chadha, who previously rewarded us with Bend It Like Beckham (2014), has this film take place in 1987 when racial hatred aimed at Muslim immigrants dominates Javed and his family’s existence. On top of that, he has a controlling father, played memorably by Kulvinder Ghir, who follows a Pakistani custom of being the King of his family’s tiny castle.
Javed’s only escape is to write poetry, which he keeps at home. Wanting to pursue an education in college instead of taking a factory job that his father constantly urges, Javed’s life changes when his friend Roops, warmly played by Aaron Phagura, gives him two Bruce Springsteen discs. Javed is immediately overwhelmed as he finds both hope and guidance from Springsteen’s lyrics.
The rest of the film becomes a comic wonder wrapped around a social meaning having impact in our country today. To begin with, the interaction between Javed his girlfriend Eliza, played by Nell Williams with an unforgettable enchanting smile, and Roops will repeatedly bring tears to your eyes as you wipe them away laughing. You watch them confront racial taunts as Javed thoughts of Springsteen’s lyrics repeatedly surrounds him onscreen.
Yet there are moments of magic where Javed and others sing a Springsteen song in a market at school where many join in and proceed to engage in some unforgettable dance scenes. Additionally, there are several glorious moments involving Rob Brydon, who plays the father of Javed’s close friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman). Mr. Brydon, who many of you will remember from his hysterical performances with Steve Coogan in the three Trip films, engages in one of the most entertaining moments you will see in any movie as he joins in with Javed in a song and dance sequence surrounded by customers in his store. The emotional impact is dazzling.
And then there is the performance of Hailey Atwell as Ms. Clay, Javed’s teacher in a literary class. When Javed feels that his writing will never be recognized, she provides both encouragement and important contacts that allow Javed to meaningfully pursue his dreams.
As I noted above, I clearly love this film. Those of you who read my reviews know that I make no apologies about becoming emotional in many films. Let me emphatically state without exaggeration that I don’t remember sitting for long periods of time with tears in my eyes as I did in this heart-warming film. Springsteen’s music will leave you constantly wanting to stand up and dance with the young actors on screen.
The beginning of this film notes that the movie is based on a true story. While I don’t dare give away the memorable ending, let me just say that it is filled with a bit of irony. As Javed prepares to visit the United States after winning an award, his father warns him to be careful as many in the States discriminate against Pakistani Muslims. Javed memorably responds that he is not worried as the United States provides a home to everyone.
As I listen to our President and his supporters rant about the dangers of an immigrant invasion I wish Javed had been right.