Gurinder Chadha on why Brexit was the inspiration for Blinded By The Light
"I wanted it to remind people how soul-destroying that time was for people like me"
Gurinder Chadha is one of the UK's most successful filmmakers living today. Her feature debut Bhaji on the Beach received critical acclaim for capturing a British-Asian experience onscreen on its first release in 1993, but it was 2002's Bend It Like Beckham that made her a household name.
Launching the careers of Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it focused on a Punjabi Sikh teenager from Hounslow (Parminder Nagra) who plays football against her family's wishes. It went on to be an international smash, and bizarrely, the first Western film to air on North Korean television.
Gurinder Chadha returns this month with her latest film, the Sundance smash Blinded By The Light, which in many ways is a spiritual successor to Bend It Like Beckham, switching out the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star for another iconic figure: Bruce Springsteen.
Based on the memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, it follows Javed British-Pakistani 17-year-old growing up in Luton, in 1987. It's a tough time for him, as well as going through all the normal stresses of being a teenager, Javed life is also impacted by the rising racist violence in the area, alongside mass unemployment and a lack of opportunities. But he finds the strength to get through it all when he discovers the music of The Boss.
Like Bend It like Beckham, it is a crowd-pleasing coming of age story - but it is also a noticeably darker film than Gurinder Chadha's previous work. It doesn't hold back from showing the horror and violence of the National Front, or the economic bleakness parts of Britain were facing at the time.
Unsurprisingly, Chadha says that she intended the film to reflect the problems Britain is facing today - and the xenophobia and divisions that have spiralled out of Brexit. Initially, she was worried that the film might be too similar to Bend It Like Beckham - but then saw Blinded By The Light as the right vehicle to express all this.
"I was so shocked by all the xenophobia that was unleashed," Chadha told JOE, "and the fact that people thought tell could get on a bus and start yelling at an elderly black woman who'd worked for the NHS for 30-odd years."
"I just saw a breakdown in society, and though 'What can I do?'. I'm going to make a film about it. So I pulled out Blinded By The Light and did a whole pass where I put all my anger and frustrations about the hate and xenophobia into this film."
"Even though it is set in 1987, I wanted it to remind people how soul-destroying that time was for people like me."
Blinded By the Light is in cinemas August 9th.