BLINDED BY THE Light, Gurinder Chadha’s latest directorial effort is a different yet familiar take on the immigrant experience. It is based on the experience of a young Pakistani man who wanted to be a journalist. Chadha has taken his story and set it in a more entertaining milieu. Javed, the Pakistani teenager, escapes the prejudices he faces by writing poetry. When he is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen, his world changes and he is able to stand up to his conservative Pakistani father.
How do the songs further the narrative in this movie?
A good song in the right place can speak volumes. You just got to know how to use it and how to set it up. And in this movie, I chose six to eight songs to really focus on. And in that way, I could make sure I could set everything up. I didn’t want to do a jukebox musical. I wanted to make sure the music was part of the fibre of the film and not just playing in the background. All of my films have had a lot of music. People will look at Blinded by the Light (2019) and think of Bruce Springsteen, but there is a lot of other music, which you are not expecting in there as well. Besides all the ’80s music I’ve included, there’s a lot of Asian music. There’s the Bhangra music in the daytime and that scene was very important to me because in 1987 we were taking Western music and combining it with traditional Indian music and creating our own dance music and started having our own nightclubs. Besides Bhangra, there are two Mohammed Rafi songs—my dad’s favourites. If you pay attention to the lyrics, you will see they are very moving and relevant, relating to what the character is going through, because in many ways this is my dad.
Were there Springsteen songs you wanted to include but could not?
One of my favorite songs of his is Jungleland and for me that is like a complete movie. I really wanted to include that, but I would have had to cut the songs around and I didn’t cut any other of Bruce’s songs around, so I felt I had to get his permission. I went to see his show on Broadway and met him after, and I said, ‘I want to do this to this song, but I need you to allow me to do it.’ And so, I have a scene with the National Front, the right-wing party, marching through the streets when Javed is running to get tickets for the Springsteen concert, and all I see in my head is the saxophone of Clarence [Clemons] playing during that. I wanted to use that there but then I wanted to use the quiet piano during the fighting and the ugliness, because that is also very spiritual. That is how I crafted and choreographed the music to make it have an emotional impact, as well as tell the story. I asked Bruce how he felt about that and he immediately said, ‘I think Clarence would love that, you are honouring him and you should do it.’ And so that was one amazing moment for me.
The other song I really wanted to put in was Darkness at the Edge of Town but I couldn’t find a place for it and then it came to me. There’s a scene when the father tells Javed he does not want the son listening to Bruce anymore and even though he keeps talking, we don’t really hear him, we hear Bruce sing, Come on don’t listen to him, and I was very proud of that because I came up with the idea just before the shoot.
Did you face prejudice while growing up in London?
There were horrific things on TV that we would see in terms of speeches by Enoch Powell and then there was the rise of the right wing and the National Front. Those were very scary times.
I lived in Southall and they came down and wanted to march in the streets,
and for the first time the Asian community said to them: ‘No. You are not going to do that, this is our community.’ It was a time when my generation came of age.