With Bend it Like Beckham, film-maker Gurinder Chadha scored a winner with her fantasy football tale of teenage kicks. It was a feel-good hit, despite tackling thorny subjects such as sexual stereotypes, cultural taboos and gender inequalities, which catapulted Keira Knightley to stardom.
Now, with her latest film, Blinded by the Light, Chadha has created another zesty slice of adolescent angst that's an equally lovable, feel-good romp, even though it, too, deals with potent issues like xenophobia, cultural traditions and intergenerational conflict.
"Although Gurinder's films are often about important issues, ultimately they're always uplifting and healing," suggest Viveik Kalra, who plays the lead role of Javed in Blinded by the Light.
"I think that's important, especially in the world we live in, that there are films like hers with hope and optimism."
"I do like telling stories of hope," says Chadha, nodding. "It's important for a film to not only entertain and tell a story but also to have an impact, to empower people and inspire them."
She also seemingly likes coming-of-age sagas, with Bend it Like Beckham, her frolicking, fun follow-up Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and now Blinded by the Light, all bittersweet tales of teenage life, love and longing.
"There's something about a coming-of-age story that's very exciting for me. It's a time when you reflect on life and, if it's not quite going the way you want it to, you can make a decision to change it," she explains.
That's the case with Blinded by the Light, which focuses on Javed's hopes and dreams, but also the challenges of being a Pakistani-British teenager desperate to flee the race-driven, cultural wasteland of his hometown, Luton. Set in 1987, amid the rise of the National Front, he imagines escaping to a bigger, brighter and better world, one where he can be who he wants — not who his parents want him to be — and where he's not defined by his race or religion but, instead, by his aspiration to be a writer.
"He's caught in a dilemma between fulfilling his own dreams and defying his father's will, or dutifully following his father's wishes and giving up his own ambitions," explains Kalra.
"It's basically about whether he toes-the-line or rebels."
The deciding factor in his decision to flee home and turn his back on his family and culture was an unlikely one — Bruce Springsteen. He discovered "The Boss" and his music when classmate Roops handed him a couple of cassette tapes. From then on, Javed was obsessed with Springsteen's songs, which soundtrack an uncanny parallel with his own life and the problems he encounters being Pakistani-British in a small-minded, small town.
If it sounds a little far-fetched or fanciful — as does Kalra belting out Springsteen's Born to Run as he races around the backstreets of Luton with his girlfriend and best friend — what's even more fantastical is that Blinded by the Light is actually based on fact. It's the real-life tale of writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose memoir, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock 'n' Roll — a play on Springsteen's debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park — is the visionary tome behind Chadha's film.
"When I heard those tapes, everything did really change for me," Manzoor insists passionately.
"His lyrics seemed to speak directly to me, about me. It was like he really knew about my predicament and how it felt to be living in a dead-end town. It was a real epiphany. Listening to those songs gave me the courage and the conviction to leave Luton, defy my dad, go to university and pursue my dreams of being a writer."
"Pursuing his dreams" also meant Manzoor embarked on a personal pilgrimage, first to Springsteen's hometown, then across the globe to see him play live, on countless occasions. Eventually, he got to meet Springsteen, talk to him about how he influenced his life, inspired his book and now his cinematic homage to his hero, Blinded by the Light.
There was just one problem . . .
"To use his music in the film, we had to get his permission," explains Manzoor. "That meant I had to personally write to him and try to get him to agree to it. That letter was the hardest thing I've ever had to write, because if we didn't have his music, then we didn't have a film. Luckily, he loved the idea and gave us his blessing. That was incredible, because usually he never consents to his music being used."
Undoubtedly, Springsteen's wholehearted endorsement is down to the sheer brilliance of Blinded by the Light, its uplifting message of hope and its rebellious, rock 'n' roll undertones, all sympathetically curated by Chadha. But, just for good measure, she insisted The Boss took a good, long look at her work first.
"He didn't ask to see the film, but I needed to show him it," Chadha says, in a barely-there whisper. "I couldn't allow it to go out to the cinema before he had a chance to see it and tell me what he thought.
"That was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life, sitting in a cinema with Bruce Springsteen and waiting to see what he thought," she admits. "When the film ended there was complete silence. I was terrified he hated it. Then he got up, walked over to me, gave me big hug and a kiss and said; 'Don't change a thing, it's perfect . . .' That was amazing, the highpoint of my career."
It's easy to see why Springsteen was so enthralled, because Blinded by the Light is not only a brilliant tribute to The Boss but also a beautiful, beguiling and bittersweet tale of adolescent yearning. It's a heartwarming, emotional roller-coaster ride which reawakens the teen spirit, make you want to laugh, cry and — most probably — sing and dance too, just as Javed does.
Who: Director Gurinder Chadha, star Viveik Kalra and author Sarfraz Manzoor
What: Blinded by the Light
When: In cinemas next Thursday