Nearly 20 years after the premiere of Bend It Like Beckham, award-winning filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is back with Blinded by the Light, a movie just as impactful and culturally significant as the first. Bend It Like Beckham was a surprise hit in 2002, making $76.5 million on a $6 million budget, inspiring countless around the world who identified with the main character being caught between cultures and living up to the expectations of her immigrant family. (It also resonated among young girls getting into sports, contributing the the women's soccer mania which we're still seeing the payoff of today.)
Chadha describes Blinded by the Light, on which she’s director, producer, and co-writer, as “a spiritual companion” to her earlier film. “It shows the tightrope we had to walk as teenagers, fighting for what we wanted without alienating our parents who lived just for us, their children. The struggle is born when those children have dreams of their own. That, for me, is very rich territory, full of drama and emotion.” The territory was at least rich enough to mine for a second film, which is in theaters now.
Kendal Feider, 27, an Asian American sports industry professional says, Bend it Like Beckham had a huge impact on her growing up, and made her feel seen in a way coming of age flicks hadn’t at that point. “Culturally, it was the first Asian movie that I had seen that focused on and navigated cultural differences.” And for someone who says her “life revolved around soccer,” Feider adds that, “It was incredibly inspiring to see strong and passionate women fight for what they wanted and be successful.”
The new film is poised to impact a new generation in the same way, by representing millions who rarely see their own stories depicted on screen. Based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, it tells the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in the industrial town of Luton, England in 1987, who becomes obsessed with the music of Bruce Springsteen. While the Bend It Like Beckham touched upon issues around racism, Blinded by the Light leans in for the emotional tackle. Chadha explains after witnessing hate transpiring around her in the wake of the Brexit, “I took all my frustrations about what I was seeing around me today and put it into the script.”
The story is rich with dynamic characters, weaving universal themes of friendship, music, and love which transcend race and religion. The main character’s friendship with Matt, played by Dean-Charles Chapman (you might know him as Tommen Baratheon in Game of Thrones), is genuine and touching. Matt remains loyal to his friend, even as their lives, interests, and popularity levels diverge. Matt’s Dad is a carefree father figure who fans Javed’s passion for The Boss, supplying backup vocals in his serenade to win the girl. Javed’s writing teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), is a pivotal side character who nurtures his natural talent. Furthermore, she’s at the front lines along with Javed’s girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams) to protest the local neo-Nazi march. Lastly, the neighbor and war veteran, Mr. Evans (David Hayman), is a constant and quiet supporter of Javed and his writing, subverting the stereotype of xenophobic senior citizens. These characters refuse to concede their community, their country, or their friends to the haters challenging their way of life.
The film reinforces the truth that today’s social and political battles cannot be won with an ‘us against them’ mentality. Blinded by the Light carefully avoids the White Savior trope as Javed is very much the hero of his own story, boosted by those around him, including his family who loves him and his loyal friend Roops (Aaron Phagura). All of the central characters in the film stand up for justice. They fight for a more diverse and loving society, one to which they can proudly belong.
Bend It Like Beckham and Blinded by the Light distinguish themselves by representing authentic South Asian points-of-view in Western film. Chadha’s work lifts up Desi talent both in front of and behind the screens. “I distinctly remember being in awe of the fact that Bend It Like Beckham featured a short, brown actress in the lead role and still went on to such huge box office success. This mattered a lot to Brown girls like me growing up,” says Thrupthi Reddy, 39, a longtime fan of Chadha’s films.
As coming-of-age stories suited to their unique time periods, both works impart an imperative message about identity: It is possible to fight for your dreams without abandoning your roots. To this point, Blinded by the Light’s Aaron Phagura, a self-described terrible student, laughs as he pleas: “Parents, don’t let your own dreams take over those of your kids.”
Blinded By the Light is in theaters now.