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Blinded by the Light: celebrating Gurinder Chadha's movies

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Director Gurinder Chadha returns this week with bittersweet coming-of-age drama Blinded by the Light.

Set in Luton in 1987, this British gem is the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British-born teenager of Pakistani descent. Defying his strict father's wishes to pursue a 'meaningful' career, aspiring writer Javed finds unexpected inspiration from the songs of Bruce Springsteen. Desiring to escape the humdrum, dreary realities of eighties British suburbia, Javed realises the music of the man they call 'The Boss' distills all of life's great wisdom.

Born in Nairobi and raised in England, Chadha has established a reputation as a warm-hearted chronicler of multi-cultural Britain, stretching right back to the early 1990s. If you're not familiar with her brand of optimistic, infectious cinema, here are five movies that will prepare you for the sunny tone of Blinded by the Light.

1. Bhaji on the Beach (1993)

Chadha had already established herself as a news reporter and documentarian by the time she made her first movie. In 1989, her Channel 4 documentary I'm British But... explored the lives of young people in the British-Asian community, which helped set the tone for Bhaji on the Beach.

Produced via Channel 4 Films and written by noted comic Meera Syal, this is the story of a group of women who take a day trip to visit the Blackpool Illuminations. They all stem from different generations, and Chadha's generosity of spirit allows us to experience their triumphs and tragedies in equal measure. This ranges from the spectre of domestic violence to two teenagers whose adolescent infatuation with boys leads to disapproval from the more conservative individuals.

BAFTA-nominated for Best British Film, this helped put Chadha on the map and won critical acclaim. Publication Sight and Sound said the movie "offered some trenchant observations about prevalent prejudices and what the younger, British-born generation of Asians had to offer".


2. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

The movie that shot Keira Knightley to stardom, Bend it Like Beckham scores a hat-trick in its look at the gender divide, multi-cultural complexities and the agonising need to balance one's love of family with personal ambition.

This crowd-pleasing Brit hit features a winning central performance from Parminder Nagra as Jesminder 'Jess' Bhamra, a 19-year-old girl from a loving Punjabi Sikh family. However, she has a problem: she desparately wants to become a footballer and follow in the footsteps of her great idol David Beckham. Knightley is equally brilliant as Jess's new best friend and fellow squad member Jules.

The movie's decision to foreground Becks as a narrative plot point emits a wonderfully innocent nostalgia. One automatically locates the movie back in that early noughties halcyon period when Beckham was on top form for Manchester United (he scored 11 goals in 28 league games, trivia fans).

That aside, the movie really works because Chadha brilliantly evokes Jess's struggle to appease two very different cultures, the depiction of her family striking an amusing but never patronising note. Scene-stealing supporting performances come from Archie Panjabi as sister Pinky and Anupam Kher as dad Mohaan, and the movie went on to gross $76 million against its $6 million budget.


3. Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Chadha is not only an observant film-maker but an ambitious one, capable of grafting her own experiences of growing up in the UK onto pre-existing templates. Case in point: Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice gets a neat twist courtesy of this Bollywood-inflected musical.

This time round, Austen's characters the Bennetts are substituted for four young unmarried women in an Indian family. Chief among them is Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai, who gives a strong performance as the spirited Lalita Bakshi, a stand-in for the original story's Elizabeth Bennett. When she finds herself falling for this story's Mr Darcy, played by Martin Henderson, the stage is set for a clash of wills.

The essential groundwork of Austen's story is infused with plenty of eye-catching costumes and dance numbers, not to mention a look at the pressures of arranged marriage. Rai herself performs songs 'Take Me to Love' and 'Touch My Body' in the movie.


4. Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)

Louise Rennison's coming-of-age novels are the basis for this affectionate and truthful story of growing up. Georgia Groome portrays 14-year-old teenager Georgia who is suffering a whole host of adolescent problems, not least of which is her attraction to handsome Rob (an early role for Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Nailing the awkwardness of the teen years, including that dreaded first kiss, Chadha again demonstrates her empathy with characters, although the incisiveness of her usual culture clash comedy falls by the wayside in this movie. 

Interestingly, the movie was backed by the movie strand of family-friendly network Nickelodeon (best known for the likes of The Rugrats – remember that?), and the movie's perceptive study of teen angst saw it landed with a somewhat more grown-up PG-13 rating Stateside. 

Groome, in particular, was acclaimed for her performance, described as endearing and natural. And the soundtrack is a who's who of mid-2000s indie hits, including the likes of Lily Allen, Scouting for Girls and The Maccabees.


5. Viceroy's House (2017)

Chadha cast her net wider than ever before with this sweeping story of colonial India on the cusp of independence. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson play Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina who are witness to the 1947 partition of the country, which saw India pass out of the hands of the British to stand as its own nation.

Unlike Chadha's homegrown tales of domestic angst, this is painted on a much more sumptuous scale with plenty of gold-tinted cinematography, majestic locations (the movie was largely shot in Rajasthan) and a beautiful score from revered composer A.R. Rahman (Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire). 

Critical response was somewhat mixed, citing an overabundance of melodrama. However, Chadha's ambition was also praised: The Washington Post said "the movie accomplishes a difficult task, making sense of a complicated period in history".


We trust that's got you in the mood, so click here to book your tickets for Blinded by the Light, which opens in Cineworld this Friday.