Reel/Real Impact: Bruce Springsteen–Can His Music Change Lives?

Director Gurinder Chadha, whose latest film Blinded by the Light has just opened, is an outsider par excellence. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian-Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London.

Chadha’s movies have always dealt with the immigrant experience, and the new one is no exception. Blinded by the Light tells the story of a Muslim Pakistani teenager in Thatcher’s England whose poor life is saved when he’s turned on to the music of Bruce Springsteen during the late 1980s National Front-dole queue era.

Chadha is by her own admission a Springsteen fan, who pursued her dream of making a movie about The Boss’ music based on the true-life memoir of co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor. It took almost a decade from Chadha’s chance meeting with Springsteen, who gave his approval to the book after a 2010 screening of “The Promise,” a documentary about the making of “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

It remains to be seen whether Blinded by the Light will be the director’s biggest crossover hit since Bend It Like Beckham.

Like Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, where a struggling Indian musician in London stumbles upon a world without the Beatles, Blinded by the Light is an homage to the power of music in general, and Springsteen in particular.

“Turned out ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ was one of Bruce’s wife Patti Scialfa’s favorite films,” says Chadha. “I think Bruce was touched that we approached his music from a unique cultural point-of-view.”

“We tried to make the music work for our story rather than exploit it.  I only used the ones which captured the character’s journey. I set out to make a movie with integrity, that would live up to that legacy–not only Bruce’s music but what he stands for, what he represents. I had to stop seeing him as a rock star, but someone who wrote these songs for my movie.”

When Springsteen came back from reading the treatment with the simple response, “I’m all good with this,” Blinded by the Light began shooting.

Offers were being texted to Chadha as she sat in the audience watching her own film. After a bidding war, Warner and New Line Cinema acquired it for the $15 million it cost to make.

The movie’s setting in 1987 is rife with Paki-bashing and fear of foreigners.  It makes a deliberate comparison to our contemporary troubled times, especially in Britain, where Brexit has become a hot-button issue. “That’s why I wanted to make this movie right now — because of those parallels,” Chadha offers. “It’s a reminder to all of us what our lives were like back then, and what we’ve achieved since then. I believe we’ve moved on from that. It’s a minority who hold those extreme views. The majority want a world where people have empathy and understanding between each other.”