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Movie: 'Blinded By The Light'


If I said, name an iconic American singer-songwriter, well, Bruce Springsteen would be right at the top, right? But the new film "Blinded By The Light" tells the story of Javed Khan, a British teen from a traditional Pakistani family trying to grow up in the Thatcher era where jobs are being lost and the right-wing National Front is on the rise. And for whatever reason, Javed becomes obsessed with The Boss, much to his own confusion and his family's distress.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You've gone mental. Close the bloody window. The whole house it's freezing now. You should be listening to our music before you start getting confused and hating yourself.

MARTIN: Well, the movie is based on the memoir by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor "Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion, And Rock 'N' Roll." Sarfraz co-wrote the screenplay. And here to talk about the film is the director, Gurinder Chadha, who also directed the 2003 hit "Bend It Like Beckham." And she's with us now.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

GURINDER CHADHA: Oh, thank you. It's so great to be here.

MARTIN: I just have to say, on behalf of so many women and girls who play sports, that "Bend It Like Beckham" was so meaningful to so many people. It got you international acclaim. It highlights what it was like not just to be a British teen of Asian descent but trying to figure out how to fit into both worlds - like, please the culture that your parents are from, live in the world that you're in now. This film is similar, not the same. But I just had to ask you about that. Is this an important story that you feel that you want to tell?

CHADHA: Well, it's wonderful how much love that film has. And it was 17 years ago now, so (laughter) what's wonderful and gratifying is because of the recent Women's World Cup, so many of the players got into playing soccer because of watching that film on a loop. That's gratifying and aging at the same time.


MARTIN: You are right. I mean, there are a lot of girls who saw themselves in that film.


MARTIN: So tell me about this film. Where did this idea come from? I did mention that it does come from a memoir...


MARTIN: But how did you get interested in it?

CHADHA: I've been a big Bruce fan since I was at school. And I read an article in a newspaper in the early '80s and it was by Sarfraz Manzoor. And I'm, like, wow, there's another Asian person who loves Bruce Springsteen in the United Kingdom. That's two of us. So we became good friends. Sarfraz said, I'm going to write a memoir about Bruce Springsteen. Will you read it?

But when I read the memoir, I said, I know how to turn this into a great film. But without Bruce and Bruce's music, forget it. We don't have anything. We need his blessing. And then, luckily for us, in 2010, Bruce came to London for the premiere of his film "The Promise." I took Sarfraz as my plus one, and we both stood on the carpet like fans...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHADHA: ...You know, with cameras, waiting for him to come by. And as he approached, we got very nervous and very jittery. And Sarfraz - Springsteen recognizes him. And so Springsteen walked over and said to him, hey, man. I read your book. It's really beautiful. And Sarfraz is, like, oh, my God.


CHADHA: You read my book. And I was standing there thinking, I have five seconds to do a movie deal with Springsteen...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHADHA: ...Right now before he gets moved on by all his managers. So I just went, hi, Bruce. My name's Gurinder Chadha. I made "Bend It Like Beckham." I'm so glad you like the book. I want to make a movie of it (vocalizing).

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHADHA: I thought I was going to be professional, but it kind of came out like that.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CHADHA: And then Bruce kind of looked at me, and he looked at Sarfraz. And he said, sounds good. And that's how the movie happened.

MARTIN: But why did it take so long? That was nine years ago.

CHADHA: Timing is everything. And I was worried about picking up "Blinded By The Light" again because I was worried about the overlap with "Bend It Like Beckham." And then Brexit dropped in Britain. I was just horrified and shocked at the amount of xenophobia that just hit us. And ordinary, middle-aged people who felt that they could get on buses or be in public places who would quite happily abuse people of color - like, elderly black women who'd worked in our hospitals all their lives - you know, they felt that they could just start abusing them racially.


CHADHA: So I said, I've got to do something about this. I've got to use my voice. And that's when I picked up the script of "Blinded By The Light."

MARTIN: Well, there are some very tough scenes in it. I don't want to give it all away, but one that I'll mention is where this group of little white boys urinate through the mail slot of a Pakistani family's house. It's very disgusting. But the film overall is joyous. I mean, it's the joy of discovering an artist who speaks to you.


MARTIN: The lyrics are very important to the film. In fact, there are parts where the lyrics are projected behind Javed as he discovers Springsteen's music. There is something interesting seeing it through his ears, maybe...


MARTIN: ...Or trying to - experiencing it through him.

CHADHA: Well, in itself, writing is not cinematic. So I worked on how to make words not only cinematic but emotional. So when the words do pop up, it's me making sure that you make the connection with what this American young man was writing in New Jersey in the '70s and early '80s and feeling trapped and wanting to get out - all that completely fits the life of this 16-year-old Pakistani kid a decade later.

MARTIN: I did think it was a very powerful statement about the power of art. And I know this sounds really...


MARTIN: ...Sort of hoity-toity and grand...

CHADHA: Not at all. Not at all.

MARTIN: But it really is about how art can make a difference.

CHADHA: Art is not the preserve of rich people who can afford to go to art galleries. Art is anything that touches us and moves us and makes us relook at ourselves and our lives and our world differently. What I was trying to do with this movie was show that, yes, it is based on a real-life story which has a beautiful ending. Yes, it's based on the wonderful music of Bruce Springsteen. Put those two together, and as a filmmaker, what I have to try and do is be more transgressive, is be bigger than Bruce.

So for me, this film is an antidote to what I see around me in many countries where people are leading voices of hate. And the opposite is true of what Bruce preaches, you know? We are all together.

MARTIN: That's Gurinder Chadha. Her latest film is "Blinded By The Light."

Thank you so much for talking with us.

CHADHA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.