Film & Television

Gurinder Chadha’s New Movie
Will Have You Dancing in the Dark

The 2002 feel-good, girl-power, social-commentary, romantic-comedy, coming-of-age, sports-themed Bend It Like Beckham represented multiple cinema firsts. Besides being a charming blend of all those familiar movie genres, it was a commercial success, grossing more than £11 million in the U.K., $32.5 million in the U.S., and $76.6 million worldwide. It was, and remains, the highest-grossing soccer film in the United States. For many, it was their first glimpse of Parminder Nagra, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Keira Knightley. And it was praised by critics across cultures and continents, from the Los Angeles Times (“full of easy humor, an impeccable sense of milieu that is the result of knowing the culture intimately enough to poke fun at it while understanding its underlying integrity”) to The Times of India (“in many ways, like Indian curry with extra masala topping. Its rich, steamy flavour of tummy jiggling humour in a London corner, where Whites and Asians share fences, faux pas and fancies”) to the BBC (“Mr. Beckham ought to be proud to have his name on such a great film”).

But, perhaps most significantly, it introduced us to the marvelous cinematic work of director/screenwriter Gurinda Chadha.

As a reminder (because if you haven’t ever seen it, you owe it to yourself to remedy the situation as soon as possible; you can rent it on Amazon Prime), Bend It Like Beckham is the story of two ambitious young women living in a London suburb. Jesminder (Nagra) is the daughter of a traditionalist Punjabi Sikh family and Juliette (Knightley) is white and English. Although both girls, talented soccer players, struggle with sexism (Juliette’s mother assumes they’re lesbians, and her well-meaning political correctness is comical), Jesminder has the added pressure of complying with her father’s insistence that she prepare herself to be a good Indian wife. Add in a love triangle (involving their handsome coach, Rhys Meyers), a championship game on the same day as Jesminder’s sister’s wedding, and sports scholarships to a California university, and Chadha has plenty of opportunities to comment on how different cultures live side by side, their many differences, and — most important — how people who may look and act, dress and pray differently are very much the same inside.

Bend It Like Beckham was released less than a year after 9/11, and Chadha feels strongly that its positive reception was due in part to the world’s looking for confirmation that disparate cultures can coexist in peace and happiness.

Today, the United States, as well as many countries in Europe, is facing renewed divisiveness and hate as it grapples with issues of immigration, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. With this in mind, Blinded by the Light, Chadha’s exuberant new film, provides a most welcome respite.

As in her earlier movie (and it should be noted that Chadha hasn’t been idle since, directing another half dozen films, running her own production company, raising twins, and being awarded the O.B.E. — Office of the Order of the British Empire — by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to the British Film Industry), she focuses on the struggles facing immigrant families in England. In this case, the film is set in the 1980s, a particularly challenging time with conservative, nationalist Maggie Thatcher in office and a nationwide recession that hit hardest for the country’s working class. Again, the film is a coming of age story. But, in this case, Pakistani teen Javed gets help from an unlikely ally an ocean away.

Blinded by the Light is based on the memoir Greetings from Bury Park by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (who is credited as co-screenwriter with Chadha, along with her longtime collaborator and husband Paul Mayeda Berges). Manzoor, like Javed, found a sort of salvation in the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, “the Boss.” 

“The boss of who?” Javed asks his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura). “The boss of us all,” Roops reverently answers.

A bona fide super-fan, Manzoor has seen Springsteen in concert hundreds of times. He credits the superstar with giving him the courage to leave home and pursue his career as a writer. It’s his real-life origin story that has been adapted, irresistibly, in Blinded by the Light.

Javed, portrayed by soulful newcomer Viveik Kalra, lives in the parochial working-class town of Luton with his father Malick (Kulvinder Ghir), mother Noor (Meera Ganatra), and two sisters. Malick, a proud man, came to England from Pakistan to provide a better life for his family. But when layoffs hit the automotive factory where he works, he finds himself without a job and with little hope of landing another. (Repeated heartbreaking scenes show him dressing up in a suit and tie to scour help-wanted cards posted at a local employment office.) In order to meet their expenses, as well as provide a respectable wedding party for oldest daughter Yasmeen, Malick requires everyone in the family to contribute. At first, he seems despotic, insisting that Noor take in sewing that keeps her up into the morning hours and taking her to a jeweler to sell her gold bangles. However, Chadha shows us his fear and humiliation as well. Meanwhile, Javed deals with Neo-Nazi bullies who spit on him and deface walls in his community with swastikas and the message “Pakis Go Home.” A local mosque is vandalized, and Yasmeen’s wedding procession is interrupted by the fascist National Front movement’s violent march. Javed is torn between his loyalty to his family and his desperate desire to leave Luton and build a better life elsewhere.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.