‘Blinded By The Light’ Writer Sarfraz Manzoor Talks About Film Adaptation of His Memoir, Springsteen’s Blessing
Growing up, most people have that band or singer that forever changes you, and it’s that moment and mountain-moving feeling that’s at the core of Blinded By The Light.
The film is based on Greetings from Bury Park, a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor that chronicles how the music of Bruce Springsteen impacted his life growing up as a Pakistani teenager in a small English town during the 1980s. Manzoor co-wrote the screenplay with director Gurinder Chadha, best known for 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, and Paul Mayeda Berges.
One of the film’s most moving moments comes when we see Javed (played by Viveik Kalra/the character based on Manzoor) listen to Springsteen for the first time on a portable cassette player while outside in the middle of a major storm. The symbolic storm is coupled with various effects that include seeing Springsteen’s lyrics appear on screen, which was by design.
“When I first heard Springsteen, I just felt like his words came alive to me,” said Manzoor. “He spoke to me, so I figured, ‘Why not just put the words on the screen?’ Because that’s what happened to me, it felt like the words were coming alive.”
He continued, “It really was a big, important moment, because you’re trying to recreate the feeling of your life being transformed by a song in a moment of cinema. What’s quite interesting about that is Gurinda, who directed the film, said that that was going to be one of the pivotal moments, because there will be people watching this film that know nothing about Springsteen or won’t care, and that scene has to explain why Bruce spoke to Javed, or me.”
Of course, without Springsteen – both his blessing and in the form of his actual music – this film wouldn’t have happened. A movie about how The Boss’ music changed the life of a teenager without the actual music just doesn’t make for a decent draw. However, when Blinded By The Light was being filmed, it had yet to be picked up by Warner Bros. Pictures, and the budget was tight. And in a time when licensing songs for use in films has become a very lucrative opportunity for additional revenue, Springsteen did what few artists would do: Let the film use his songs for free.
“He’s given 19 songs…He’s given the most valuable thing he has with his back-catalog to a story about a Pakistani teenager in England in the 1980s,” said Manzoor. “Think about how much he could sell his music for; he gave it to us for nothing. It’s a British Independent film. We didn’t have a studio backing us. It was just a small budget film, and he basically said you can have the entire back catalog.”
Manzoor detailed why he thinks Springsteen gave his blessing toward the film in such a generous way.
“It uses his music to tell the story of a 16-year-old boy in Britain. I think that’s why he gave his permission because [the film] wasn’t about him, but I think that’s what makes it different…compared to say ‘Rocketman’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ It’s not a jukebox musical…What is interesting about this film is that it’s about the most important thing to Springsteen, which is his music and about how his music has affected people. So, in a way, it is a biopic about him in a sense that it’s a biopic if you’re thinking about the work and not just a biography. In a way, it’s a really honest tribute to him, because the most purest version of his work is his music. ”
Blinded By The Light hits theaters nationwide on August 16.