“We have seen difficult times before,” starts Chadha.
During the interview, I wanted to tell Gurinder Chadha that she is to me what Springsteen is to Javed in her film Blinded by the Light. Larger than life. Awe-inspiring. Authentic. Raw. That her 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach was seared in my memory!
But when my icon spoke, I merely managed to squeak out a “such an honor, Gurinder.” No need to gush like a star-struck fan, I thought. And when I asked Gurinder Chadha questions, her replies were honest and amazing, just like her.
Gurinder Chadha’s film Blinded by the Light is a message of hope and the power of music to uplift and inspire. It simultaneously tackles neo-Nazi white supremacy.
“We struggle, but we also celebrate.”
GPJ: Your film comes at a particularly difficult and divisive time in the USA. The image of the Pakistani family scrubbing “Go Back” graffiti from their walls (and worse) in your film comes to mind. Recently, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, started a “go back to your country” and “send her back” chant for duly elected US Senator Omar Ilhan. Comments?
GC: Yes, it’s a difficult time and we’ve been through it before. The film is set in 1987 in England when we were really struggling with Margaret Thatcher and the rise of the National Front. In that time, people were quite intimidated by the rise of racism. I made the film to show how dark those times were and that we don’t want to go back there.
GPJ: A scene from the film about a National Front rally seems hauntingly like Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis and white supremacists were emboldened to march. The protagonist, Javed, has white allies — his friend, the teacher, or the principal, or the newspaper colleague at The Herald. He also has white adversaries — the National Front, the skinheads, Margaret Thatcher… How can we strengthen our allies for multiculturalism and simultaneously resist nationalistic and white supremacist adversaries?
GC: Well, you’ll have to talk to a politician about that, but I’m pleased that my film has been warmly received so far. It’s good that people are interested in Bruce’s America represented on the screen — the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen are what Javed listens to.
GPJ: Agreed — he’s given hope through his brilliant lyrics to many listeners. I understand you’ve been a Springsteen fan for a long time?
GC: Yes, I certainly value and appreciate his words and his music.
GPJ: You have been unafraid to discuss issues within the South Asian community — in Bhaji on the Beach, for instance, you dealt with domestic violence and our own racism towards blacks. When Javed writes about the mosque in The Herald, his father criticizes his actions and tells him to keep his head down. Any comments on the pressure for ethnic artists and writers to show our community in a positive light?
GC: Well, I think all writers should write what they like. What I like to do is to show that we struggle, but we also celebrate. We’re not defined by struggle or racism — we have three-dimensional lives which have a lot of love and happiness in them, and people often forget that. When I make a movie, it’s important for me to have a different social perspective that reflects that and celebrates us.
GPJ: I appreciate that your voice is heard in the world film scene. Your films are so unique. I recently saw Yesterday by Danny Boyle, for example, and the treatment felt so one-dimensional. Whereas there is a wholeness of the story in “Blinded… “ — you don’t shy away from depicting prejudice and racism against people with skin color that clearly identifies them as the Other. I’m grateful for your voice, and confident that you will speak for a diasporic Indian in a way that is real and authentic.
GC: Thank you! It’s really important that you get the word out. Unless people support it, it’s going to be harder and harder to make films like that.
Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D. is working on a book called “50 Voices From South Asia.”
Photo credits for film stills: Nick Wall
This article was originally published in August 2019.