Director Gurinder Chadha crafted something fun and highly entertaining in Blinded By The Light. Based on a true story, the story focuses on Javed (Viveik Kalra), the son of Pakistani immigrants living in mid-80s suburban Luton, a time and place filled with economic hardships and a rise in racism and intolerance. Amidst that, Javed finds the music of Bruce Springsteen and discovers how that music speaks to universal truths. He’s particularly affected by it because Javed is a writer himself, filling notebook after notebook with essays and poems and dreaming of a career where he can do that professionally.
Standing in the way of that dream is Javed’s father, who wants his son to pursue something more practical. Much of the movie’s conflict is centered around the clash between generations, with the older parents wanting Javed to follow a certain, largely traditional path and keep his head down and ignore the hatred around them. But Javed wants to be a teen, make his own path and take a stand against the nationalism infecting the country.
The disagreements between Javed and his father are constantly butting heads in part because of the recession gripping the country at the time, one that results in the father losing the job he’s held for decades and pushing the family to the edge of financial ruin. He wants Javed to be more secure and not have the same struggles, so a career in writing is a flight of fancy, one that can’t possibly come with any security.
In that way, the story of Blinded By The Light offers a great example of the benefits a Universal Basic Income situation can offer a society.
The real life Sarfraz Manzoor, on whom Javed is based, did go on to become a journalist and professional writer of course, but others who grow up with the same dream aren’t always as lucky. They are forced to make choices based on financial realities, opting to pursue some other profession that offers a more stable income and other options.
As the movie points out, if Javed were forced to make that decision the world would be denied an important voice. He may not be a best-selling author or a well-renowned poet, but his creations would still be important to himself and potentially others. Art still matters, even if the audience is small.
UBI means the freedom to pursue passions without consideration of how a living will be made. If they don’t have to worry about paying the rent or procuring health insurance, they can choose not to take a job they don’t care for but instead can keep creating their art and put something new and precious into the world.
That budding artists are forced by society to compromise their callings because without doing so they won’t be able to afford the basics in life is a tragedy.
While the movie isn’t perfect – it suffers from not being able to quite commit to being a musical – it has that and other important and entertaining messages to send. It captures that moment of teenage life when you discover something and are obsessed with it to the point where you annoy everyone around you talking about it all the time. It also shows how music can inspire and reach across cultures.
The $18 million grossed by Blinded By The Light at the box office was largely seen as disappointing, but it’s a great choice for home viewing, where you can sing along with the outstanding soundtrack and overlook some of the story’s issues more easily.
Mostly, though, it should be seen as a warning of what might be missed when we force all our artists to get other jobs.