By Octavio Serrano
Journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s articles have been published internationally in The Guardian, The Times, Sunday Times Magazine and The New York Times. But his column about his love of Bruce Springsteen helped him find his way.
“I wrote this article for The Guardian in 2002,” Manzoor says. “A literary agent contacted me, who really liked the article, and said, ‘Do you fancy writing a book?’”
“Greetings from Bury Park” tells the story of Manzoor, who moved from Pakistan to Britain as a child and grew up in Bury Park, Luton. He covers the challenges of growing up as a Pakistani Muslim in England. The book has been made into a movie, “Blinded by the Light,” which blends dark themes like racism and prejudice with light humor. It is slated for release on Friday, August 16.
The movie follows Javed, a British teen of Pakistani descent played by Viveik Kalra, who is trying to make sense of the world while succumbing to the pressure of economic turmoil, social identity, political activism and his relationship with his family. To deal with it, he drowns himself in Springsteen’s music.
The film was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who was behind “Bend It Like Beckham.” She jumped at the chance to work on Manzoor’s story.
“This is an era that I was very familiar with, and this was an opportunity to tell a story about people like me,” Chadha says.
“I thought it was a very charming story as well of somebody who was suffering real alienation and feeling trapped and had a dream and actually the dream came true.”
Chadha was captivated by the multidimensional characters, who show the best and worst of society and people.
“We live very full three-dimensional lives and juggle all kinds of things, so, with my movies, I want to make sure that we show some of the hardships, but at the same time we share the joy and we celebrate our lives,” Chadha says.
For Manzoor, however, the book and movie allow him to share his story with a large audience. He says he wrote it to show how someone like him, who he considered unexceptional, could accomplish his goals. Many of his peers were sent to prison instead of college, too.
The film does take creative liberties, but “Blinded by the Light” still captures Manzoor’s essence.
“With the script, I wanted some of it to be real,” Manzoor says. “So, I really did write poetry. I really did want something different in my life. I did work in a sandwich factory. I really did go to Manchester. My friend (Roops) really was like that.”
Played by Aaron Phagura, Roops is the sole reason Javed found Springsteen and gave him the confidence to speak up. Phagura calls the film a rollercoaster of emotions that speaks about social issues that are multigenerational.
“Although it has a comedic undertone, it tackles serious issues that my grandparents had to go through coming into the country and my parents had to deal with being one of the first generations of Asians in England,” Phagura says. “All of this is still going on. We are in a bit of a political crisis and racism is still a thing.”
On a lighter note, Phagura wants younger generations to learn about Springsteen and the power of his music.
Manzoor says watching “Blinded by the Light” was difficult. Throughout the film, the audience sees Javed struggling to respect the wishes of his conservative father who wants his son to study business.
“My actual dad died when I was 23 years old, so my wife and children have never met him,” Manzoor says. “This film is the closest they have to seeing my dad. This is my way of bringing him back to life for two hours.”
Their relationship shows parents can compromise with their children, even if they disagree. It also reminds Manzoor of how his parents helped him become successful.
“The bit where the dad says, ‘Go write your stories, but don’t forget ours,’ that’s very hard for me to watch and I get very emotional about those things.”
Manzoor wants to tell younger audiences that things will get better if they act for themselves and their community.
“If you just listen to music and then don’t do anything in life, you’re not really fulfilling anything,” Manzoor says.
“So, it’s really about being hopeful and actually pushing toward things that make it better.
“If you think the community is not working together, get involved. If you feel the stories you want to hear are not being told, write some new ones. So, it’s about actions rather than sitting around complaining about it.”
The film’s message is universal and Manzoor hopes audiences see that.
“Its appeal is bigger than the world in which it is set,” Manzoor says.
“It’s actually about themes, whether it is hopes and dreams, or father and son relationships, or the power of music, which are bigger than the world it comes from and which can reach and affect you no matter where you are watching it.”