The English coming-of-age comedy-drama Blinded by the Light, opening this weekend, is based on the teenage years of Sarfraz Manzoor, a Pakistani immigrant who grew up in Luton, England. Manzoor decided to pursue a writing career, in part, through an inspiration that seemed unlikely, at least to his traditional family: his passion for the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.
On a recent visit to Phoenix, Manzoor, director Gurinder Chadha, and co-star Aaron Phagura sat down for a chat with PHOENIX Magazine about their Springsteen enthusiasm (answers have been edited for length):
PHOENIX Magazine: What was the first Springsteen song you heard?
Sarfraz Manzoor (writer): The song which kind of opened me up the most, initially, was “The River.” And it was the live box set version. And the reason was that—I dunno if you’ve heard the live box set version—but basically it starts, not with him singing the song but doing quite a long preamble about his dad, and a story about growing up with his dad. Now I was a Top Forty kind of kid, so I listened to pop music, Madonna and Michael Jackson and Prince, and I just didn’t realize that musicians did this, that they told stories, about themselves. It was just a different thing, you know? Then he starts the song, and the first lines are ‘I come from down in the Valley, where mister when you’re young, They bring you up to do just like your daddy done.’ That’s incredible; that’s like a short story. I really wanted to know what happens next. It feels sort of like a mini-film; and the narrative propulsion of that made me think, I want to know what happens to these characters. And again, that felt utterly different than anything I’d heard before.
PM: You seem like you’re a Springsteen fan almost on the level of Sarfraz.
Gurinder Chadha (director): Absolutely. Well, he’s a fanatic, I’m only a fan. But I’ve been a fan since I was in school, so I’ve appreciated him most of my life. With Bruce, what I admire most about him is that he’s a man of the people. His stories that he conjures up in is songs are about ordinary people who are trying to get by, have a living, raise their kids, when there’s a lot of struggle around; they may be poor, they may be migrants, they may have got laid off, but generally speaking, they’re ordinary people who are living ordinary lives. And [Springsteen] sort of reminds us that these are the people that build our cities, build our world, and keep it running. And as he says, no one wins unless we all win. Don’t forget the little guy. I think that’s where I connect with him. In many ways he used to sing about people like my parents. Now he sings about people like me.
PM: Are you a Springsteen fan?
Aaron Phagura (the young actor who plays Roops, the hero’s Sikh friend from school who turns him on to Springsteen): The film made me one. Thanks to this woman right here [director Gurinder Chadha] I am now. Before, I knew the name; that was the extent of it. But to portray Roops correctly, I felt like I might not be able to have the same level of fandom as him, but I needed to understand what it was about this guy’s [Springsteen’s] words that could resonate so well to an Indian seventeen-year-old in Luton. So I listened to a lot of his music, watched a lot of his documentaries, watched his fans going insane for him, and after a while it dawned on me, he just seems like such a grounded guy. He’s really in touch with humanity, you know?