Blinded By The Light
Director: Gurinder Chaddha
Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams
British director of Indian origin Gurinder Chadha moved with her family from Nairobi, where she was born in 1960, to London when she was two. England was wracked by racial tension in the early years of the 1960s, and since her father was a Sikh who wore a turban, he often became a target for conservative whites who felt that England was only for Englishmen. Firmly etched in her psyche, such hostility became Chadha's canvas for some of the films she made. Most of her movies were about immigrants in Britain, and their problems and plight.
One of her earliest pictures was Bend it like Beckham – where a young Sikh girl in England is not allowed to play hockey by her family, and the movie takes us through her turmoil as she struggles to get on to the field. It was a gripping piece of cinema – which unfortunately was not followed by anything as memorable. Bride and Prejudice, Mistress of Spices and so on were cliched and convoluted.
Chadha's latest outing also in England, this time in Luton, Blinded by the Light (which premiered at Sundance in January, and is now streaming on Netflix), profiles a Pakistani family, headed by despotic Malik Khan (Kulvinder Ghir in a caricatured role). His two daughters and wife are meek, not so his son, Javed Khan (a wooden rather Viveik Kalra). His passion for singer Bruce Springsteen pushes him to write poetry and lyrics. The father strongly disapproves of this, saying such a pastime is merely for the locals. But Javed is not to be dissuaded, the harassment and humiliation he faces from Neo-Nazi punks merely strengthening his resolve to take refuge in music and Springsteen to further his life and career.
Although Chadha uses Springsteen's music with a lot of conviction to carry the narrative forward, the story seems somewhat pretentious and fabricated. Yes, the songs do help Javed understand himself and leads him towards self-searching goals. He rebels against his father to pursue a course in English literature and writing in Manchester, and finally even wins over the affection of a British girl, Eliza (a vivacious Nell Williams) – much to the initial chagrin of his family.
All this, though, is rather predictable and passe. Look at the way, the father comes around to his son's strand of thinking, and how Eliza rather inexplicably begins to dote on Javed. All these appear a bit too forced and uncannily similar to Bend it like Beckham.
Admittedly, when Bend It Like Beckham came many years ago, it was novel, but since then with a host of movies that talk about how youngsters win over their parents, Blinded by the Light looks so ordinary and cliched.
I understand Chadha is best when she is telling us stories about immigrants. But she needs to move on to newer pastures if she were to keep alive audience interest in her cinema.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)