In Blinded By the Light, a Pakistani teenager named Javed finds his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the story is a true one, and viewers are treated to photos of the real “Javed,” his friend, and The Boss. (Warning: There will be spoilers in this article.)
In fact, the real story behind Blinded By the Light tracks closely with the Big Screen version, albeit with a few key changes. In real life, Javed is a journalist named Sarfraz Manzoor (you can follow him on Twitter here.) The movie was based on Manzoor’s book, Greetings From Bury Park.
In the movie, Javed chafes against the dictates of his traditional and conservative Pakistani father against the backdrop of 1987 small-town England (Luton), Margaret Thatcher’s politics, and far-right discrimination. Enter Bruce Springsteen, whom Javed, a high school student, discovers when a friend hands him a cassette tape. Although American, Springsteen’s odes to the working class, work ethic, fatherhood, and family speak to Javed and, eventually, to his dad, who turns up in his suit every day to a job centre that never seems to offer jobs.
Manzoor wrote in his memoir: “Having stumbled in the dark for so long, on that September night, I was blinded by the light. That night Bruce Springsteen changed my life.”
Here’s what you need to know about the true story:
The Movie Takes a Few Liberties With Sarfraz Manzoor’s Life
The movie deviates from the real story in a couple key ways. According to Screen Rant, Javed was a name Manzoor’s mother gave him before his father switched it to Sarfraz.
However, unlike the movie, Manzoor didn’t first discover Springsteen’s music with a hurricane raging outside, and he actually went to the Springsteen concert. In the movie, Javed’s father tears up his tickets.
One key way the movie, by director Gurinder Chadha, differs from real life: Javed’s girlfriend, who plays a pivotal role in the film, is made up. Manzoor explained to Screen Rant: “In real life, I was literally not allowed to leave the house until I went to university at 18 – not just in the evenings; I never, ever went out. So, the idea of having a girlfriend? I would have been slaughtered. No way. But Gurinder was like, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to give this guy a girl. We’ve got to cheer him up a little bit.’ So, he’s got a girlfriend, which I didn’t have.”
Writing about the movie for the Guardian, Manzoor wrote that he really did have a friend who introduced him to the music. “When I first ran into Amolak he had his headphones on, and when I asked what he was listening to he told me it was Bruce Springsteen. When I queried his music taste he told me Bruce was a direct line to all that was true in this world,” he wrote.
Of the movie, he wrote, “Set in 1987, it revisits my teenage years and much of it is directly based on real events. O ne unlikely consequence of this is that my teenage friendship with Amolak has now been immortalised – not something either of us could have imagined in our wildest dreams.” In the movie, Amolak goes by the name Roops.
Springsteen Read Manzoor’s Book in Real Life
The Hindu explains that Bruce Springsteen, in real life, read Manzoor’s book. Manzoor was writing for the Guardian but his contract was not renewed, so he focused on turning his memoir into a screenplay and then sent it to Springsteen, asking to use the songs.
Springsteen gave the go ahead, showed up at the premiere, and once even handed Manzoor his guitar while changing his shirt at a concert, Hindu reports.
Manzoor explained to the Hindu which messages he wants audiences to take from the movie, saying, “This film is saying that art, music, words do not respect borders of race, religion, nationalities. In a way this is a message of hope, cross-cultural and cross-national unity and one of the reasons why this film is picking up so much is because it’s a message that people are desperate to get because it feels so hopeless.”
Sarfraz Manzoor Has Found Success as a Writer & Broadcaster
According to the Guardian, Sarfraz Manzoor has lived out his fictional version’s dreams of becoming a journalist. “Sarfraz Manzoor is a journalist, author, documentary maker and broadcaster,” his Guardian author page explains.
His BBC biography reports, “Sarfraz Manzoor has presented many documentaries for Radio 4 as well as contributing to programmes on cultural questions and chairing Saturday Review.”
He did in fact grow up in Luton. The bio reports: “Born in a village outside Lahore in Pakistan, he came to Britain in 1974. He grew up in Luton where he attended comprehensive school and sixth form college before being seduced by the gritty charms of Manchester, where he studied economics and politics at the city’s university.”
He has worked for Channel 4 News, Radio 4, BBC2, and has written for the Guardian. His memoir was published in 2007.
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