By Erin Chew
Gurinder Chadha’s feature film Blinded by the Light was released on August 16. It has performed well, bringing in a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is about how the music of Bruce Springsteen helped Javed, a Pakistani British young teenager growing up in the 1980s, understand his identity and self-worth. Javed, inspired Springsteen’s music, embarks on a journey of self-discovery in a racially and religiously driven United Kingdom. The film’s themes resonated with me and touched me to so much that tears poured from my eyes by the end of the film.
After reviewing the film, I got a chance to speak with its lead actor Viveik Kalra, who plays Javed. Kalra spoke about the film’s personal significance. He also discussed how it felt to play the younger version of Sarfaz Manzoor, the journalist and author of the book the film was based on.
I found it interesting to explore whether Kalra, who is an up and coming young actor felt any pressure personally in playing Manzoor – who in many ways can be described as a complex person to play. I also asked Kalra whether any part of Javed came from Kalra’s own personal experiences.
VIVEIK KALRA: Wow, this is a hard question to answer. I think the best way I can put it is that I wasn’t playing Saf the real-life person, but I was playing a token of elements of who he was growing up as a Pakistani British teenager during the 1980s. The pressure I felt was representing the person Javed which both Gurinder and Saf wanted me to represent. Playing Javed really allowed me to learn about what it was like being brown, Muslim and different culturally during the UK in the 1980s, and really I take my hat off to all those who did because it was a really hard time – a time which I as a young adult wouldn’t understand. Though it can be argued that the current environment in the UK was not so different from the 1980s.
To be honest I feel I am different from Javed. Firstly I never grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen music – growing up I was into the American hip hop scene of Ja Rule and Usher, but I guess what makes Javed me and me Javed is our love for music and for creative writing and the arts. That I think is what we share in common.
I asked Kalra what themes from the movie he felt were important. How important might a film like Blinded by the Light be for the UK South Asian community?
VIVEIK KALRA: You are really giving me deep thinking questions here, so let me see how I can answer it in the best possible way. Themes wise, I think relationships ( romance, friendships, family, cultural heritage, neighborly, looking beyond race) was extremely important but I also feel that Bruce Springsteen’s songs which Gurinder, Saf and the other film crew members chose to use in the film was extremely significant and should be considered as its own theme, because it essentially represented the journey Javed was on and how the lyrics of the songs shaped his ever-changing personality and self-confidence.
It also coincides with all the relationships I mentioned above, because all these were not clear to Javed at the start and it was all the relationships which messed with his understanding of self-worth. I think if I was to take something out of playing Javed it would be understanding that relationships with myself, my family, my culture, with society and my friends all take time to understand and untangle. I also hope others who watch the film can see this significance too.
Finally, I wondered, who is Viveik Kalra as a person? Why did he decide to become an actor and has he ever looked beyond the West and into Asia – specifically Bollywood?
VIVEIK KALRA: I think in many ways we all do think about the glory of being an actor as a young kid but it doesn’t really click as a kid that being an actor could be a job or a career, particularly coming from an Asian cultural background where different expectations are set. Though, I am lucky that my Asian parents have always been supportive of my acting career because they saw my interest in this area when I was young and sent me to youth theater and drama classes. So I guess that is me Viveik Kalra.
In terms of Asia and Bollywood, it is not on my cards right now, but who knows what the future will hold. I am though very thankful to Gurinder and Saf who entrusted me to play Javed and to be the main focus of the film. Really the entire feeling is still surreal for me.
Blinded by the Light is out in theaters now. If you have a chance, go see it.
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