“Blinded by the Light” is a film about a British Asian teenager growing up in the 1980s in Luton who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. It transforms his life. The film comes out on 9 August here in the UK, and 16 August in the USA. I saw the film last Thursday in a preview hosted by the Picturehouse cinema, near Piccadilly Circus in London.
The film is based on a memoir written by the journalist Sarfraz Mansoor called “Greetings from Bury Park” which was published in 2007. Bury Park is where Sarfraz lived in Luton; Bruce fans will appreciate the album association in the title. The director is Gurinder Chadha, who also directed another popular rites-of-passage film called “Bend it like Beckham”, which was about a young Asian woman fighting against cultural norms in order to play football. “Blinded by the Light” treads similar ground in that respect; it is also similar in that it is a real feelgood movie, where there are setbacks, moments of despair, clashes with family, but ultimately a happy ending where everyone comes together. And you want them to!
What made “Blinded by the Light” so special for me was, of course, the music. The music of Bruce Springsteen. The film provides real insight into the lives of Muslim families in Luton, a town of 200,000 people about 35 miles from London, in the 1980s. A major employer, Vauxhall motors, reduces its workforce in the midst of a deep recession, and the father of main character Javed loses his job – and his self-esteem with it. There are extremist thugs on the streets, spitting in faces, spraying racist graffiti on walls, doorways. Javed goes to a sixth form college, inspired by a love for writing, including poetry. There are all sorts of barriers to his aspirations, not least at home, but an English teacher recognises his talent and helps him persist. I’ll say no more than that to avoid spoilers. But the biggest change in Javed’s life is when a fellow student introduces him to Bruce Springsteen’s music. The passion, the rage, the hope and defiance in the songs speak to him immediately. The lyrics seem to describe his own life, his dilemmas, frustrations and desires. Bruce may be singing about the lives and struggles of people in New Jersey and New York, but the feelings expressed are universal. They can mean just as much to a young lad from Luton.
It was this universality of Bruce’s music which hooked me in my teenage years in just the same way as it did Javed in the film, and Sarfraz Mansoor in real life. The album that changed everything for me was “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in 1978; for Javed/Sarfraz it would seem to have been “Born in the USA” and “Darkness”, in 1987. I didn’t face the struggles of a young Muslim trying to make his way in a world of prejudice, but I had enough of my own issues that the music of Bruce Springsteen addressed like no other. His songs became a soundtrack to my life, as I have described over two chapters in my own book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey”*. From what I know of Sarfraz’s passion for Springsteen over the years, I’m in League One compared to his Premier League; but I completely understand where he is coming from.
The film has been fully supported by Bruce Springsteen and his people, and Bruce has even written a new song for the soundtrack – don’t leave until the credits are over!
So, if you want to see a film that is at once an acute piece of social observation, an uplifting tale of how the good in people can prevail over obstruction and prejudice, and a moving and joyous celebration of the music of Bruce Springsteen, put “Blinded by the Light” on your list. You will come out feeling better about the world – and even if you aren’t a fan of Bruce’s music you might just find yourself wanting to punch the air to “Born to Run”!
*PS. My book I Was There – A Musical Journey, published in 2016, is available on Amazon and Kindle. I also wrote a book of poems called Growin’ Up – Snapshots/Fragments which includes a poem called, simply, “Bruce”. My version of Sarfraz Mansoor’s tale. Growin’ Up – note Bruce song reference! – was published in 2017 and is also on Amazon and Kindle.