'Blinded by the Light' Makes Inventive Use of Springsteen's Music to Tell an Inspirational Story

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. If it weren't for the fact that the real-life story of how a Pakistani teenager found inspiration in the songs of Bruce Springsteen while growing up in Luton, England in the late '80s inspired Blinded by the Light, the film would come off as some kind of far-fetched fantasy.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But knowing there's some truth to this story — the film is based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor's memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N' Roll — makes the movie especially inspiring. The book takes its title, Bury Park, from the name of the Luton neighborhood where Manzoor was born and references the Springsteen album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. It opens area-wide on Friday.

As you can imagine, Luton, England in 1987 isn't particularly welcoming to Pakistanis. Hooligans often chase Javed (Viveik Kalra) on his way home and scrawl racist graffiti on the doors of the Pakistani immigrants who live in his neighborhood. It's a pretty hostile environment.

To cope with the situation, Javed writes poems about his experiences and keeps them in a diary. The writing helps him deal, but he still feels lonely and isolated. All that changes; however, when a classmate introduces him to the music of the Boss and plays him "Dancing in the Dark." "Bruce Springsteen is the direct line to all that is true and meaningful in the world," says his classmate. His words prove to be prophetic.

Javed falls into a trance upon hearing the song's intro and immediately sees the parallels between Springsteen's depiction of working class life in the U.S.A. and his life as an outsider in England. Javed becomes obsessed, memorizing song lyrics and breaking into "Badlands" when a few bullies come at him at a diner.

The film's plot takes rather predictable path in its second half as Javed falls in love with a girl and has a huge fight with his parents, who don't understand his interest in poetry and journalism. The preponderance of Springsteen songs whose lyrics often scroll down the screen sometimes makes the movie come off as an episode of Glee.

But given that we live at a time when immigrants have once again been demonized, this movie seems particularly timely and successfully shows how a little compassion can go a long way.

Be sure to stick around for the film's credits that include photos of the present-day Manzoor, who has seen Springsteen perform more than 100 times, and backstage shots of him hanging with the Boss himself.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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