Blinded by the Light
Viveik Kalra, Aaron Phagura, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell, Nikita Mehta
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…part-musical, part-biopic, part-rom-com and all sheer bloody brilliance.
2019 is quickly becoming the year of the British jukebox musical. After two impressive efforts between Danny Boyle’s Yesterday and Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, writer/director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging) has delivered an equally affecting hat-trick with this part-musical, part-biopic, part-rom-com and all sheer bloody brilliance.
And it all starts with its place as a ‘jukebox’ musical, because this is of a slightly different breed than most. If anything, it embodies that genre label the most literally, being less about licensed music as means of opera-esque storytelling and more about the connection between that music and the characters, protagonist Javed (Viveik Kalra) in particular.
Through a combination of simple yet efficacious kinetic typography, delectable staging captured by Ben Smithard’s camera work, and just plain joyous performances of the actors singing along to Bruce Springsteen, it creates an enrapturing experience. An experience that highlights both the personal and universal connection that a capital-A Artist can make with an audience, whether they’re from Asbury Park, Bury Park or Gilbert Park.
The film’s musings about that connection reach an almost-religious peak, making Javed and Aaron Phagura’s Roops into quasi-prophets spreading the ‘Word of the Boss’. Considering the narrative’s ulterior musings regarding religion and racial prejudice, it’s a tricky but ultimately successful tightrope walk in making that comparison, actually landing it, and all without losing sight of some of the bigger ideas at play.
The story of Javed himself has shades of Chadra’s earlier work like Bend It and even Perfect Snogging, showing a British-Pakistani teenager coming of age and trying to make sense of his place in the world, himself based on real-life journalist and co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor. The backdrop is ripe with both political and cultural identity, from the Thatcher-era setting (with suspiciously familiar white supremacists marching the streets) to the monstrously eclectic music scene of the late ‘80s. Both of these influence the story in their own ways, building on the notions of family, race and religion to add more texture to the melting pot, while managing to avoid coming across as didactic or preaching to defeners who remember ‘real music’.
All in service to what is, at its heart, an incredibly funny and grin-inducing piece of cinema. Even with everything else whirling around the script and soundtrack, it never loses step with delivering tried-and-true family drama, nostalgia-tickling one-liners, and heart-warming romance.
Gurinder Chadha’s aesthetic as a filmmaker is looking at the barriers between cultures, and with her latest, she outright shatters them with the words of one of America’s greatest songwriters, channelled through a truly infectious sense of optimism.