You are the most obvious person to address this letter to. And to be clear, you technically didn’t write this movie. Instead your writing credit reads: “inspired by the words and music of”. But this movie, and the young boy you inspired to (actually) write it, would not be the same without your contribution.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine how or even if this movie could exist without your work. Your music, lyrics, and legend inform Blinded by the Light as much as they do its protagonist, Javed, a sixteen-year old British-born Pakistani Muslim living in the working-class town of Luton, in 1987. As a first-generation Brit, Javed is already a talented writer, but is expected to get a job in a professional field. His parents must constantly sacrifice to give him and his sisters a better life than they had in Pakistan.
Blinded by the Light is based on the memoir of journalist Safraz Manzoor, who discovered you at a pivotal time in his life when he was questioning his cultural identity and his future. Your words became both a comfort and rallying cry. It might seem strange for a Muslim kid in 1987 to find a kindred spirit in an all-American rock god, but the parallels between your world and Safraz’s are obvious to anyone who is a fan of, well, you. Like Safraz, your family struggled with unemployment, and you were raised with a strong sense of faith, in a community which was hampered with economic hardship. You took your own pain, fear, and hope and made it universal.
And herein lies the unapologetically earnest charm of Blinded by the Light. In a year which has seen the historically fuzzy hagiographies Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, and the cute yet unremarkable Yesterday, it would seem we are nearing jukebox musical fatigue. These films feature some of the most popular artists of the 20th century, yet despite the wealth of content at their disposal, and their dazzling leads, none come this close to capturing the way music makes you feel. Especially at that crucial age when you are too young to express or even understand every competing emotion, yet old enough to recognize and exalt in art that makes you feel seen. It is this essential element that makesBlinded by the Light the most insightful and joyous of the bunch.
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha isn’t mining new territory here, and that’s for the best. Her Bend it Like Beckham also explored themes of clashing cultures, parental expectations, and a protagonist obsessed with a hero (and both feature a third act wedding). It was the feel-good movie of 2002. And Blinded by the Light certainly looks poised to take that title in 2019, though it has more decidedly dramatic undertones. Much of 1987 Britain was suffering under the economic and social strife of the Thatcher regime, and blue-collar Luton was no exception. Chadha does not shy away from illustrating the rampant anti-immigrant racism faced by Javed and his fellow non-white Brits. The depressing similarities between 80s Britain, and our current tensions are obvious but not pointed. Javed’s journey is uniquely his own.
Blinded by the Light has a delightfully 80s DIY vibe to its musical numbers. Nothing feels too polished, and that’s points in its favour. When Javed and his friends sing and dance in a flea-market, or Madness-style dance over a freeway bridge, we know we are cheering for a scrappy underdog in an unforgiving world. Despite beats which dip their toes into sentimental predictability, the film is buoyed by lead Viveik Kalra’s exuberant performance, which portrays Javed’s sincerity as his strength. As your words “I’m just living in a dump like this. There’s something happening somewhere, babe I just know there is” swirl around his head they become his words and rooting for him becomes irresistible.
A few years ago, cynical me might have scoffed at such a relentlessly feel-good flick. But cynicism has never provided a release so sweet and necessary. Many films remind us to reach for our dreams, no matter how impossible they seem. But few have done it so pleasingly, and none have done it with the enthusiasm and pure hope that we all need right now, which could only come from the man we call The Boss.