Gurinder Chadha and Aaron Phagura on Blinded by the Light, Bruce Springsteen, and Sundance.
Blinded by the Light premiered at Sundance and was acquired by New Line Cinema before the festival came to a close. The film, which is based on the life of the book, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll written by Sarfraz Manzoor has become one of the best-reviewed films of the summer and is certified fresh with a 93% approval rating from over 100 critics from all across the globe.
I was lucky enough to sit down with director Gurinder Chadha and actor Aaron Phagura to talk all about the film including what was Bruce Springsteen’s involvement with the film.
Scott Menzel: Congratulations. This is such a lovely film.
Gurinder Chadha: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: I always like to go back to Sundance when I see a movie at Sundance and talk about that experience and what it was like to be there.
Gurinder Chadha: You were at that big theater?
Scott Menzel: Yes, the Eccles. What was that like for you?
Gurinder Chadha: That was just mind-blowing for sure. I’ve been making independent films for so long now, but just being there, I mean that was a precious thing and I hope every independent filmmaker gets that opportunity. Because here I was seeing the film for the first time with members of the public who happened to be American and I wasn’t sure how this film set in Luton was going to go down. And slowly the audience was just warming and warming and warming and then they started hollering and cheering and it was the most beautiful experience. And then massive standing ovation at the end. And then, of course, our amazing bidding wall because we didn’t have a distributor in the States. It was a dream come true, really.
Scott Menzel: That’s an amazing story. How about you? How did you feel when you got this script? Was it relatable to you?
Aaron Phagura: It was a bit of a yin and yang. A lot of the aspects of it I could relate with like the growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and having to deal with being treated differently for the color of my skin. Not to the extent that they did but I understood it. On the other hand, the music aspect and the dancing and the singing in the street was so brand new to me. Honestly, I got so much confidence from making this film. At first, I had my head down, people were coming out of their houses and looking at us like, “What are they doing?” And after a while I didn’t care, I was like, “Yeah, everyone come out of your houses. I don’t care.”
Gurinder Chadha: But he’d never heard of Bruce Springsteen.
Scott Menzel: What?
Gurinder Chadha: Yes, exactly.
Aaron Phagura: I knew he was a household name and that was literally it. I had never listened to his music until this film.
Scott Menzel: I’m from Jersey.
Aaron Phagura: I’m sorry to break your heart. I’m sorry.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, that’s really sad. It’s Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, that’s what comes from Jersey. Everything else is secondary. Since you did not know of Bruce Springsteen, now that you’ve listened to so much of his music, what’s your favorite song?
Aaron Phagura: Every time someone asks me this, I have a different answer. So, I have a new answer every two maybe three weeks. And my new one is Streets of Philadelphia. I’ve had that on loop for a while now.
Scott Menzel: Okay, it’s a great one.
Gurinder Chadha: Very powerful.
Aaron Phagura: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Menzel: I agree. So, I am just curious, did Bruce Springsteen come to set at all?
Gurinder Chadha: Bruce gave us the green light by I just saying, “Yeah, sounds good.” Then he read the script and he said, “Yeah, I’m all good with this.” Literally, that’s all he ever said, gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted, whatever songs we wanted. He said, “You can use it.” And so we made the movie really without his involvement but all his involvement with his life’s work. And at the end of the editing process, I wanted to take my director’s cut to him.
Gurinder Chadha: So I went to New York, he was on Broadway. So Sunday afternoon we sat down, him, Jon Landau, a couple of other managers sat there and I showed him the movie and I was quite nervous because he’d given me the responsibility of looking after him but I was like how do you take Born To Run and re picturize it? It’s his anthem. So I had taken quite a lot of risks myself with how I wanted to tell his story through a British 16-year-old Pakistani kid’s perspective. And at the end of the movie, there was silence. No one’s said anything. And I was like, “Okay, well that didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.” But I went down, turned the lights on, he got up, he walked over to me, he gave me a big kiss and he put his arms around me and he said, “Thank you for looking after me so beautifully.” And he said, “Don’t change a thing. I absolutely love it.” And then we sat down for an hour and he talked through all the things that he loved. He loved all the stuff to do with self-deprecating him. There were gags about, “Oh is he, Billy Joel?” All this, he was like, “Loved all that.” He loved the politics of the piece, he loved how it was so relevant today. And I asked him, “What was your favorite bit?” And he said, “How you did Born To Run.” So I was like, “Oh, I’m in tune with the boss.”
Scott Menzel: There you go. Well, it was incredible and thank you so much for making the movie.
Gurinder Chadha: Thank you.
Blinded by the Light opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, August 16, 2019