Blinded By The Light, Gurinder Chadha’s newest work, is her best since the career-defining Bend It Like Beckham. Whatever she did thereafter, seemed to be bit of a climbdown. Not this time. This is Gurinder grabbing the glory gone-by with hungry angry fingers unleashing a kind of musical feast on a playing field populated with some of the most believable Asian people one has seen in a film about the British Asian’s experience in Britain. There is the 18-year-old Pakistani-British Javed (played with disarming ingenuousness by Viveik Kalra) and his despotic father Malik (played with swarmy, authenticity by Kulbhinder Ghir). Ghir reminds you so much of the despotic Pakistani father that Om Puri played in the 1999 film East Is West, that one is sure Gurinder would have cast Om were he alive.
The people in Gurinder’s film and their problems as Pakistani migrants seem so real, you can touch them with your bare hands. There is Javed’s mom, toiling over her sewing machine, trying to make ends meet after the father loses his job (this is the time of acute British recession in the 1980s), and Javed’s doting sisters who have a secret life of their own, away from their despotic father’s prying eyes.
But above all, there is musical legend Bruce Springsteen lording over proceedings with his gravely voice and glorious music, conferring on Javed’s hopeless arid life a sudden harvest of hope and happiness and yes, a future.
Gurinder weaves Springsteen’s classic songs into the story of Javed’s life so seamlessly, it feels as though the Pakistani-British lad was born to win. It is interesting that just some months ago in the film Yesterday, Danny Boyle paid a similar though far less heart-warming and winsome, homage to another musical legend the Beatles through the character of a Gujarati-British hero (played by Himesh Patel). Apparently Boyle had to pay a sum almost equal to the rest of the film’s budget to get the rights to use the Beatles songs in Yesterday.
Though Gurinder Chadha is not telling, Bruce Springsteen probably didn’t charge her any money for his epoch-defining working-class songs. Apparently Springsteen was so moved by Javed’s story in Blinded By The Light and so touched by how deeply his songs affected the boy, that he waived any payment.
Be as it might , Gurinder Chadha has sprung up an enduring friendship with Bruce Springsteen after paying him such a handsome homage through her film, easily her best since Bend It Like Beckham. With two Britain-based Indian heroes coming forward in quick succession to pay a tribute to two rock ‘n’ roll legends, one wonders who’s next? Bob Dylan, perhaps? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. Right now Gurinder dancing in the dark.