Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light,” which opens Friday, wasn’t supposed to be her next film.
After the veteran English-Indian filmmaker (“Bhaji on the Beach,” “Bride and Prejudice”) finished making “Viceroy’s House,” a personal, large-scale period film, she wanted to do something different, yet she worried that “Blinded by the Light” might be seen as too similar to her upbeat 2003 “Bend It Like Beckham.”
“But then Brexit happened. And it was so shocking,” she said, during a recent visit to The City with Pakistani journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, whose memoir is the basis for the movie. She said she had to do something about the ugliness and hate she saw in England.
Set in 1987, “Blinded by the Light” describes the journey of Javed, a fictional character based on Manzoor, who wrote about his troubled teen years in England and how Bruce Springsteen’s music saved him.
“I didn’t want to make a jukebox musical,” says Chadha, who co-wrote the screenplay, carefully using Springsteen lyrics, with Manzoor and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges. “I had to choose songs that fit Javed’s journey. The most critical scene for me is when Javed first hears Bruce. I had to employ as much as I could to combine camera, sound, music, actors, to make you really believe what it’s like the first time you hear his music.”
The finished scene is a whirlwind of passion and revelation, as the 1978 song “The Promised Land” conjures lyrics that float in air, images of struggle, light and wind, as Javed (Viveik Kalra) finds a deep connection with an artist from a world thousands of miles away.
Manzoor says working on the movie unleashed a torrent of emotions. He wrote certain scenes as a way to honor his father, who died when he was 23. “There were things I never got a chance to say to him, so there’s a lot of retrospective wisdom that I put back into the film,” he says.
When he visited the set and saw how actor Kulvinder Ghir had been made up to look just like his father, he says, “I had to kind of stay a bit away from him, because it was weird.”
The movie also includes Manzoor’s actual poems, written when he was in his teens, and dialogue was taken straight from a journal he kept since he was 9.
A hardcore Springsteen fan who even flew to other countries to see Springsteen concerts between 1992 and 2005, Manzoor has learned that there is more to life than just Bruce.
While at the Hay Book Festival in Wales, a place where he says he fits in with his tribe, he decided to pass on a Springsteen show in London the same weekend. He says, “I thought, [Bruce] would be like, ‘Don’t listen to me singing “Badlands” again. Go to the festival and listen to a historian or a philosopher telling you something about life.’”
Chadha adds. “At the end of the day, Bruce just makes albums. You’ve still got to live your life. He can help you, but you still have to make decisions and deal with the fact that life can be tough.”
Lately, she’s been listening to a Springsteen’s “Live in Dublin” album, for the song “Further On (Up the Road).”
She sings a little bit, then says, “I struggled to find other people who were telling stories that are very moving about the immigrant experience that are joyful and celebratory and not just problematic. But I feel optimistic. I’ll meet you further on up the road and things will be better.”
IF YOU GO
Blinded by the Light
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir
Written by: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Sarfraz Manzoor
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes