Blinded by the Light
Born in the U.K.
Gurinder Chadha’s film, a typical feel-good movie with it’s flaws and
qualities, show how British cinema is
reinventing itself through its Indian-Pakistanese minority.
By Paola Dicelli
Reading time 4 min.
Luton, a few miles from London, 1987. Javed is a teenager from a Pakistanis family, growing up between a traditional family and a tense social climate, made of racism and Thatcher-era misery. When one of his classmates makes him listen to Bruce Springsteen, it is a revelation. He becomes his spiritual guide, taking him on another path that the one planned by his father… In the last months, we have been seeing more and more of those films shaking up the white-only conventions, and putting under the spotlight a really important minority in the UK : Indian-Pakistanis. Even though Stephen Frears gave a kick to the conservative washing machine in 1985 with My Beautiful Laundrette, the following decades found themselves stuck with a few talented but too neat actors taking turns on movie posters. The top trio ? Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and Jude Law for the men, Emma Thomson, Helena Bonham Carter and Keira Knightley for the women. But since the #MeToo era and the rise of minorities, cinema is (finally !) getting in tune with a society in turmoil. In 2018, Brian Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody went back on Freddie Mercury’s life, highlighting his childhood in a Pakistani family; Yesterday, the uchrony directed by Danny Boyle released this summer, stars Himesh Patel in a rom-com with a Beatles soundtrack, without ever putting the hero’s origins in the spotlight. Finally, Mindy Kalling’s new tv-show, a Four weddings and a funeral remake, is replacing the former actors with an afro-american actress and a Pakistani actor. Exit Hugh Grant, Charles is played by an Indian actor : Nikesh Patel.
A Billy Elliott kind of life, presented through the eye if a teenagers from Pakistanis origins
Last night the DJ saved my life
Even if all these movies have their flaws, they take part — just like Blinded by the Light— in the cinematographic rebellion. Here, we are dealing with love, social misery, musical influences ( the soundtrack rallies several iconic songs from the 70s-80s) and determination. A Billy Elliott kind of life, with one exception : it is presented through the eye if a teenagers from Pakistanis origins. Adapted from an autobiographical novel, « Greetings from Bury Park », written by the journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (who also participated in writing the scenario), the movie depicts his daily life at the time, with a merciless realism. A father who has just lost his job ( he was too old, and probably too tanned) and a mother working herself to death sewing clothes. All the while all the family is subject to racism, bigot tags, and spit from the local skinheads. But Blinded by the Light succeeds where other have failed. Here, there is no « mean redheads against the poor Pakistanis », as the directress, also from Indian origins, denounces the traditionalism of her roots, just like she had done in Bend it like Beckham (2002).
Although his father denies anything related to his adoption country, Javed embraces it. He is dating an English girl — a bit punk and very politicized, writes songs for his best friend ( a new wave brushing kind of guy), and turns Bruce Springsteen, a true American singer, into his favourite philosopher. Through his songs, the teenager is looking for a middle ground between the two opposite worlds he belongs to, symbolized in the scene when, he leaves his sister’s wedding in a traditional gown to buy Bruce Springsteen tickets. It is through music unrelated to their origins (Springsteen here, the Beatles in Yesterday and rock music in Bohemian Rhapsody) that the characters are ironically able to accept who they are. In the movie and in real life, Javed/Sarfraz Manzoor became a journalist… denouncing oppression toward minorities. And that’s rock’n’roll !