Blinded by the Light: The Pakistani immigrant experience ... and Bruce Springsteen

LOS ANGELES—Cinco de Mayo might be an imported (manufactured?) “holiday” from South of the Border, but day commemorating Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 happens to be when the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival screens Blinded by the Light.

            “Blinded by the Light,” of course, happens to be a song by The Boss, himself a pillar of American pop culture greater than our celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

            Where Blinded by the Light deviates from the 1973 single - and the totally unrelated 1980 film of the same name – is its geography: Gurinder Chadha’s film, which stars Viveik Kalra in the lead role and is scored by Indian composer A.R. Rahman, is based in 1980s England. (Sorry if you were expecting a story on margaritas and rock-and-roll.)

            Sundance Film Festival featured Blinded by the Light at this year’s Park City, Utah run. A programmer with the L.A. Asian American Film Festival hailed Blinded by the Light as an “exuberant, autobiographical musical drama of a British Asian teen’s coming-of-age and grappling with immigrant life in 1980s Thatcher England.”

            The film is based on the memoir of Sarfraz Mansoor, a journalist and broadcaster who grew up in Luton, a working class town just outside of London.

            Kalra portrays Javed Khan, a Pakistani teen and dreamer attempting to assimilate into Thatcher’s England while living with his family in a modest yet comfortable community. Javed, who belongs to a band, hopes to one day escape his small town – where the National Front, an anti-immigrant and racist group, is vandalizing local properties and terrorizing minorities.

            Chadha, who directed films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, weaves a tale of a young soul trying to chart his own course while dealing with familial pressures to pursue an education and, later, marriage to “a nice Pakistani girl.”

            It is when Javed is introduced to the music of The Boss we start to see the protagonist find himself. Blinded by the Light is certainly a timely film, what with its themes of immigration, identity and the life of minorities pitted against unwelcome (nationalistic) forces.

            The film screens at Aratani Japan America Theater on May 5 (5:30 p.m.); the theater is located at 244 S. San Pedro Street in Los Angeles. Visit the screening’s official festival page for tickets. Use the discount code VC19BBTL, which will shave $2 off of each ticket purchase.

            Warner Bros. purchased Blinded by the Light for $13 million at Sundance. Also starring in the film are Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jonno Davies, Hayley Atwell, Sally Phillips and Nell Williams.

            Blinded by the Light will release in the United Kingdom in August.