In 1987, during the austere days of Maggie Thatcher's Britain, Javed (Viveik Kalra) a Pakistani teenager struggling to discover his own identity, finds his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Review by Louise Keller: Posters of David Beckham in Bend it Like Beckham are exchanged for those of Bruce Springsteen in Gurinder Chadha's Blinded by the Light, a likeable but derivative coming of age story about dreams, anger and building bridges. Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, there is little that is new in this feel good British comedy about a Pakistani teenager who is desperately seeking an escape to his life as an outsider, although Chadha constructs it carefully and delivers a few traces of emotional gold when required.
We understand that Luton is a four-letter word to Javed (Viveik Kalra); he feels stuck in what is his home town, but where he is not accepted. University is his only hope - for a ticket out. The way discrimination against the Pakistani community is portrayed provides an insight into the essence of the environment and the times (the 80s). 'Pakis' don't go to parties. Besides, the only opinion allowed at home is that of his domineering father (Kulvinder Ghir, effective in an unlikeable portrayal). We witness the change in Javed, his perspective on life and self-belief as he is introduced to the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Suddenly he is not alone - about how he feels about himself and his place in life (Chadha's makes use of the visual, as the lyrics are strewn across the screen as a point of emphasis.)
The narrative plays out by the numbers. Relationships canvassed are those between Javed and his cocky best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), his fellow-Pakistani school pal Roops (Aaron Phagura), his encouraging literature teacher (Hayley Atwell, lovely) and Eliza (Nell Williams), the rebellious student whose mantra is to shock her conservative parents by her choice of boyfriend. The scene when she takes Javed home for dinner is hilarious, with a Fawlty Tower-esque feel about the proceedings. There's also a likeable plot strand involving an elderly neighbour, who encourages Javed with his poetry writing.
Chadha prompts her protagonist to burst out into song (Springstein songs, of course), spring boarding into energetic musical numbers. Like the one in the markets, when Rob Brydon (as Matt's dad) shows his understanding of Javed's music (Springstein again) more than that of his own son. Sometimes these explosions into song work; sometimes they play out awkwardly as an out of place fantasy.
In its favour, the film has a good heart, Viveik Kalra's lead performance is excellent (he is a mix of Andrew Garfield, Daniel Radcliffe and Dev Patel) and I especially enjoyed Nell Williams as his anarchist girlfriend, her sweet face a delightful contradiction to her attitude. Unfortunately, the inevitable comparison between Bend It Like Beckham and Blinded by the Light works to the film's detriment and we end up not being dazzled or carried away by either the music or passion.