British Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha: ‘Blinded by the Light’ is a tale of generational conflicts

Gurinder Chadha
Gurinder Chadha at her home in the Soho district of
central London. File photo by: Graham Barclay

Chadha’s latest film, “Blinded by the Light,” hit US theaters this month.

We catch up with British Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha on a late August afternoon. She had just finished a sumptuous Indian lunch, consisting of of “Paneer makhan wala” and “Gobhi matar.

“I was in the US, and was craving a hearty Indian meal,” she says with a relatable laughter. Not a surprise there — just like the storylines of her movies, Chadha continues to flirt with desi nuances in all aspects of her life.

Chadha was in Washington, DC, for the promotions of her latest film Blinded by the Light, which was released in US theaters last week. She is back once more with an endearing tale of an immigrant boy growing up in a white neighborhood in Britain, tackling the complexities of the immigrant life while making an all-important journey of self-discovery.

And one cannot help but go back to Chadha’s 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, which tackled similar themes, her new movie with a young Pakistani American protagonist does offer much more than an immigrant tale re-told.

RELATED: ‘Blinded by the Light’ is about ‘common humanity’: British Pakistani writer Sarfraz Manzoor (August 15, 2019)

While the fact that a filmmaker is remembered for a movie made more than 17 years ago can be flattering, it can also be a bit unnerving for a director to think that audience may try to find similarities. Chadha admits that the possibility of similarities did cross her mind. “I did think for a while that people may think about Bend It Beckham, but then I was also convinced that the story of Javed, a Brit-Pakistani boy, is also unique that it must be told and it would find resonance with many first or second-generation immigrants,” she says.

The movie, based on British author Sarfaraz Manzoor’s autobiographical work Greetings from Bury Park, tells the story of a Pakistani teenager living in the UK during the 1980s, his first-hand experiences and the class, cultural and generational gaps that existed back then.

Javed discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, which then goes on to shape his life and aspirations. Chadha, when she was approached with the work and the possibility of turning the book into a movie, was extremely sure that Springsteen needed to give his blessings to the work.

ALSO READ: Spotlight on Gurinder Chadha at IAAC’s New York Indian Film Festival (March 13, 2014)

Her meeting with The Boss and relating the intent to work on a movie with him at the center of the plot was one of serendipity. “Springsteen was in London for a red-carpet event, where I was invited,” she recalls. “I was with Sarfaraz (Manzoor) who had a copy of his book with him. I knew I had exactly five seconds to introduce the idea to Springsteen and I went up to him and said, ‘Hi, I am Gurinder and I did Bend It Like Beckham and I want to make a movie on the book by Sarfaraz that is a memoir and an ode to Springsteen’s music.’ And he went like, ‘Yes, that sounds good.’ And just like that we had his blessings.”

Asked whether she was also aware of the story being especially relevant to the times, as it tells the story of a Muslim boy hailing from Pakistan, when there is so much noise about race, religion and countries, Chadha says, “Well, it is a real story and the boy happens to be a Muslim from Pakistan. The fact that people relate to him and love him and feel his emotions shows that we are all the same.”

Blinded by the Light also touches newer boundaries. It may be one of the first films in which an immigrant experience is told through the influence a western form of music had on the protagonist’s life. “Yes, it is appealing and also the truth is that music can have a life changing impact on people,” Chadha says. “I remember, growing up, bhangra music left an indelible impact on my life.”

The film maker says Springsteen’s music inspired her, too, and that also made the case for her getting on board to make this movie.

Chadha also about the aspects of Blinded by the Light that make it an essentially universal tale. “On the core, the movie is about father-son relationship,” she says. “It is a tale of generational conflicts, brought together with a lot of emotions.”

And needless to add that it is this sentiment that makes the film appealing, no matter who the audience is and in which part of the world they watch it.

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