Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir ‘Greetings from Bury Park’ - Sarfraz Manzoor was two years old when, in 1974, he emigrated from Pakistan to Britain with his mother, brother, and sister. The book catalogues his teenage years, which he spent in a constant battle, trying to reconcile being both British and Muslim, trying to fit in at school and at home. But when his best friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, his life changes completely. From the age of sixteen on, after the moment he heard the harmonica and opening lines to “The River,” Springsteen became his personal muse, a lens through which he was able to view the rest of his life. Both a tribute to Springsteen and a story of personal discovery, Greetings from Bury Park is a warm, irreverent, and exceptionally perceptive memoir about how music transcends religion and race.

And the film is much the same, a heartfelt coming of age tale and a love letter to the joys of family, friendship and teenage romance during those difficult years. What sets this film apart from the other coming of age films – and we’ve shown quite a few this year – is the thrumming Springsteen soundtrack that drives the core of the film, and the unique perspective of a young Pakistani boy, who finds his rhythm, tapping along to the beat of “Dancing in the Dark”.

The film is directed by Gurinder Chada – who has slowly been building a set of these funny, accessible, quintessentially British coming of age films. In 2002, she co-wrote and directed Bend It Like Beckham, which follows the daughter of an orthodox Sikh, who rebels against her parents to play in her local football team. I was around 10 when that film came out, and it played an enormous part in my formative-years film-watching. I was in no way sporty – I didn’t have Sikh parents and could not aspire to play football for England, but it still spoke to me. Something about seeing a young brown girl respected and loved by her peers, who not only leads the film, but also gets the guy in the end, offered me something that at the time, no other films did.

Gurinder Chada is one of few British directors offering this perspective and choosing to represent British South-Asian’s on screen. Blinded by the Light, Bend it Like Beckham and her earlier film, Bhaji on the Beach are all staples of South-Asian British cinema, that offer subtle, nuanced and honest depictions of families in Britain, packaged up in joyful cinema that is still accessible to the mass market. It speaks to people of all ages, and represents a proudly multi-cultural Britain.

Blinded by the Light is still screening here and if you haven’t had a chance to see it, I hope you find the time. If you feel confident enough, perhaps have a little sing-a-long as well.

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