Gurinder Chadha can thank her decision to seize the moment for her latest project, “Blinded by the Light.”
That moment happened a few years ago, when Chadha and her friend, author Sarfraz Manzoor, spotted legendary singer Bruce Springsteen while on the red carpet at an event.
Chadha, the director of films such as “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Viceroy’s House,” ran up on Springsteen and delivered – as she describes it – a breathless, high-pitched pitch to the rocker. Chadha wanted Springsteen’s blessing to make a film version of Manzoor’s book, “Greetings From Bury Park,” which is both a memoir and a love letter to Springsteen and his music.
“I went, ‘Hi Bruce, my name is Gurinder, I did ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ I want to make a movie of this, please can you help us,’” Chadha recalled in an interview with CNN. “He sort of went, ‘Sounds good.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God, did that just happen?’”
The film tells the story of Pakistani teen Javed (played by Viveik Kalra), who in 1987 becomes a devotee of Springsteen and his music while coming of age in the British town of Luton.
While Javed struggles to build the life he wants versus what his Muslim father wants for him, he finds solace in the lyrics of Springsteen – viewed by Javed as a symbol of every man who dreams of a better world.
Chadha shares that love.
She said she was in school when she was first introduced to Springsteen’s music. She later saw “The Boss” perform in Wembley Stadium in London in 1985 and was blown away.
“The first time you see Bruce live it’s a spiritual thing. The way he does his live sets, there’s so much energy, but there’s so much integrity about what he’s saying, what his words are and how he introduces his songs,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is it, this man is just going to change my life.’”
“I was a hard-bitten fan and then I read an article by Sarfraz in one of the papers and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, there’s another Asian person that is into Springsteen,’” Chadha said before adding,”That’s how we [Chadha and Manzoor] became friends.”
Being such an admirer helped when it came time to write the script, but Chada said she felt even more compelled to write about the anti-immigrant sentiment and economic turmoil under then polarizing UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher given what she was witnessing in the UK after the approval of Brexit.
Tackling the racism in the movie proved to be difficult in a way Chadha hadn’t anticipated.
She said that when it came time to put together some of the scenes that involved hate groups, her crew told her, “We can’t do it, we honestly can’t put a swastika on the wall.”
So Chadha did it herself.
She also had to step in when filming a scene in which some members of a hate group clash with anti-hate protestors during a demonstration.
“[Those acting in the scene] said, ‘We don’t want to do anymore,’” Chadha remembered the actors saying. “‘We didn’t want to be racist, it’s so upsetting for us. We don’t want to say all these things.’”
It was an on-set contrast to the rise of global anti-immigrant sentiment happening off-set while the film was being made.
“Part of me was worried about this movie because I knew there was similarities to ‘Bend it Like Beckham,’ and and I didn’t want to repeat myself. But that was 17 years ago,” she said. “Then in Britain, Brexit was announced, the vote happened and I was shocked, like many people, about how suddenly the fabric, the country, my city, London, just suddenly all these xenophobes came from nowhere and I was really upset.”
Chadha said she put that emotion into the first pass of the script and worried how the finished product would be received.
That’s why it was so thrilling, she said, when the film was hailed both at the Sundance Film Festival at its January debut and by the man she most wanted to impress, Springsteen.
“He put his arms around me and he said, ‘Thank you, thank you for looking after me so beautifully,’” Chadha said of the musician’s response after screening the film. “And then he said, ‘Don’t change a thing and I don’t want you to change a thing. It’s perfect.’”