International films are having a field day on our screens at the minute. Blinded by the Light takes up where Yesterday left off, giving us the story of a disaffected young Asian man becoming liberated by music. Bob Dylan once said that hearing Elvis Presley for the first time was like “busting out of jail”. Something like this happens here too if we replace Elvis with Bruce Springsteen.
Gurinder Chadra’s film is set in Luton in 1987. Margaret Thatcher is in power. Everything seems bleak for Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra). He can’t seem to settle at anything, but when a Sikh friend of his (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to Springsteen’s music his life goes into a new groove.
He becomes his inspiration, his escape from Thatcher’s tunnel vision of what constitutes true worth. He’s suddenly ‘Born to Run’ as The Boss himself might say. The genie is out of the bottle.
This adrenalised rite-of-passage film is based on Sarfaraz Manzoor’s semi-autobiographical book Greetings from Bury Park. Manzoor was only two when his family moved from Pakistan to Britain in 1974. As he grew up he found it difficult being a Muslim in an alien environment.
But then he heard Springsteen singing ‘The River’ and a light bulb went off in his head. Everything suddenly began to gell. Springsteen became the glue that bound all religions, all lives together.
If music is the cathartic influence behind Blinded by the Light, love performs that function in Ritesh Batea’s Photograph. It deals with a struggling street photographer from Mumbai (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who’s being pressurised to marry by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar). One day he asks a shy young woman (Sanya Malhotra) to pose for a photograph with him.
He pretends it’s a photo of his fiancée to try and get his grandmother to cease her matrimonial tirades but then she meets her. Now Malhotra has to play the role for real.
Deanna Durbin made a film called It Started with Eve with a similar theme in 1941. In that instance it was a grandfather (Charles Laughton) doing the pressurising. Laughton was seriously ill. His grandson gave him a tonic by presenting him with a fake fiancée in Durbin.
It was obvious from early on in that film that the two leads were going to fall in love. So it is here too. Photograph is slow-moving and gentle like an old-fashioned rom-com. Batea photographs Mumbai like an extra character in the film, charming us with his light touch.
Also on release at the moment is Transit from German director Christian Petzold. It’s based on a novel by Anne Seghers about a man trying to flee Nazi-occupied France during World War II. He falls in love with the widow of an author whose identity he assumes after the author commits suicide.
Petzold has preserved the essence of the plot but transposed it to modern times, replacing the Nazi threat with one focussed on terrorism and the refugee crisis.