FILM UNFILTERED – Kalra shines in ‘Blinded by the Light’

FILM UNFILTERED – Kalra shines in ‘Blinded by the Light’

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Music plays an integral part in our lives and as I discussed a few weeks ago in this column, I spoke at length about the Beatles as an influence in my father’s life and my own upbringing.

Some of my earliest and best memories are punctuated by recollections of artists or songs. I still recall Electric Light Orchestra, Bee Gees and ABBA on the radio as my father drove us home after seeing “Star Wars” in East Providence in 1977. Van Halen’s titular “1984” album dictated my whole summer that year, and “Burn” by the Cure will always remind me of Brandon Lee’s tragic accidental death filming “The Crow.” There are probably a hundred other songs I could reference as having a burned imprint on to my memories but my point is they dictate portions or events of our lives, much like the circumstances in this week’s release “Blinded by the Light.”

The film centers around a Pakistani family living in Luton, England, in 1987. Specifically, the lone son, Javed (Viveik Kalra) is an aspiring writer who’s been keeping diaries for 10 years and writes poetry and song lyrics occasionally for his friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman). He is a ship adrift as he begins school that year until he meets Roop (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh who introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Javed soon begins to hear and understand the deeper meanings behind the music of this American from Asbury Park, N.J. The lyrics begin to influence Javed in ways he is unaccustomed to, opening him up to thoughts and behaviors that fly against the traditional Muslim upbringing of his parents. His English teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) is very supportive of him and sees his potential, as does classmate Eliza (Nell Williams).

What really comes through about halfway through this film is that it’s a story about father and son. Kulvinder Ghir plays Javed’s strict but proud father, and after suffering a layoff from his job maintains that everyone else in the family must work and contribute to pay the bills. Of course, Javed is struggling with his internal growth into maturity and defies his father and makes a fateful decision on his sister’s wedding day.

Young actor and relative newcomer Kalra is stupendous here. He easily captures the angst and uneasiness of not only a teenager but also that of an immigrant who is still facing discrimination. The irony, of course, is that if it wasn’t clearly indicated during the film with use of dates, this would seem eerily relevant in today’s political clime with white nationalists and distrust of people of color or those in hijabs. The backdrop of late ’80s England isn’t all that different from the environment here now in a very divided America.

The use of Springsteen’s music is peppered throughout most of the film and some moments are very poignant, especially the saxophone of Clarence Clemons on “Jungleland” during a very pivotal scene in the third act. Javed, like many others, myself included, strives to produce and influence and wants to have his voice heard and is committed to giving up what means most in order to be heard. This is a welcomed relief after enduring the dull “Yesterday” only a few weeks ago. You’ll find yourself tapping fingers and foot to Bruce’s tunes.

The film is rated PG-13.

“Blinded by the Light” stars, from left, Nell Williams, Viveik Kalra and Aaron PhaGura.