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'Blinded by the Light': Guidance From Asbury Park
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
04:31PM / Thursday, August 22, 2019
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When, what and where was your coming-of-age episode, the epiphany that heralded your entrance into adulthood? You better know, just in case someone decides to film a biographical sketch detailing how you came to be you. I venture to guess that for many folks, at least in the Western World, it had to do with learning, y'know, the truth about Santa. Shh! I won't say what, just in case some readers haven't gotten the memo. And for many others, the game-changer was perhaps the controversy regarding Santa's boss.
Thusly, I was prompted to scour my beleaguered memory bank for my particular turning point as I watched director Gurinder Chadha's "Blinded by the Light," wherein Viveik Kalra's Javed, a young man of Pakistani origin in Luton, England, firmly under his family's cultural grip, tries to figure his raison d'etre. For better or worse, my watershed wasn't terribly dramatic. But yet I remember it with a sentimental reverence. We had driven from Newark, New Jersey, to Jack and Laura Bochenek's apartment in Washington Heights, N.Y., at least a million times since I was little. Except this time I was driving.
Point of disclosure: Jack was my father's best friend. And I was being entrusted to get the family there safely. Dad handed me the keys to the dark green, '59, fully powered Dodge Coronet with little fanfare. But he might as well have been saying "Welcome to the Big Leagues." The ride, which included going through the Lincoln Tunnel and ferrying the large-finned machine through all manner of Manhattan infrastructure, went without incident, and Dad issued nary a criticism. He wasn't big on compliments; part of that school of thought that believed flattery would spoil a kid and prompt him to live on his laurels. All the same, I think he was proud of me.
Dads and sons. It's not easy considering our gender's inherent reluctance to be warm, fuzzy or anything that might be construed as sappy. And so it is with Javed and his dad, Malik, played by Kulvinder Ghir, a factory worker who emigrated from Pakistan with the express hope of forging a better life for himself and his family. But for every 100 émigré offspring who observe the family dictum to become a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, as was dramatically exampled in Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" (1927), there's a Jakie Rabinowitz who doesn't want to follow the company line and become a cantor. After all, he's the title character.
While Javed, having just entered into community college, doesn't want to be a singer, his true passion, writing, is just as economically imprudent to a pragmatic father whose heart has been further hardened by a layoff at the Vauxhall Motor Co. "Money, money, money," to coin the mantra emanating from the life experience that shaped Bernie Sanders' sociopolitical views. Mom has been taking in wash and tailoring, and eldest daughter Yasmeen's impending wedding is going to cost a few Euros. And here this "ingrate" of a kid wants to be a writer, an idealist.
But wait. Sonny boy's recent, 360 degree change of direction is even more inconceivably foreign and irrelevant to dad's way of thinking than first thought. Javed has found a lifestyle guru in the personage, poetry and music of Bruce Springsteen, and regularly quotes from The Boss, chapter and verse, with near religious fervor. 
Best I can research, neither Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart nor any of those other music greats has received a feature-length tribute as thoroughly extolling as is here rendered Bruce. It is the ultimate cinema homage, and probably even a little embarrassing to the blue collar troubadour, albeit in good purpose. You see, interwoven within the coming-of-age theme is a heartfelt human rights missive. Call me naïve, especially in this time when a crazy electoral blunder has virtually invited the globe's racist forces to slither out from under their rocks. But the film substantially and effectively reminds via Javed's family's travail in Luton, England, that we Americans don't have a monopoly on racial prejudice.
If the prophetic Orwell had written an addendum to his "Animal Farm," further instructing how authoritarians conspire to divide and conquer humanity, he might have opined that the ever-vigilant border collies think every other canine form is just plain stupid. But he'd speculate that most worrisome to the pooch powers that be are those boutique pups resulting from a melting pot mixture of the breeds. Surely these mutts will propagate and eventually displace the pedigreed nobility. And then what will you have, democracy, heaven forbid?
Yep, it's all packed in there: a feel-good saga of a likable young man fashioning his own great expectations, a swell score populated with The Boss' hits, and a humanistic message there for your illumination, provided you don't allow yourself to be "Blinded by the Light."
"Blinded by the Light," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Gurinder Chadha and stars Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra. Running time: 118 minutes
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