FINDING BRUCE: An interview with Gurinder Chadha

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT received a wide release in Finland on 8.11.2019. This interview was made already in September for the Helsinki International Film Festival and is reprinted in English for the first time. It’s been edited for clarity.

I wanted to start by thanking you for this film. Watching it reminds me of how it feels to listen to Springsteen, that someone out there, half a world away from a completely different life, can reach out and say that they know how this feels because they feel it too. It makes the world feel brighter and more whole.

GC: Aww. Thank you!

I want to start by asking about the process of how you selected the songs for the film. Springsteen has an immense catalog of music, yet the songs here feel picked with almost surgical precision.

GC: Yes, what I wanted to do was make sure that every song I chose was relevant to Javeed’s story; I was quite specific about that. I built the story accordingly – it was important that I did that.

For example, The River performance used in the film is the first time Springsteen performed it – and it was the first time his sister heard it and learned that it was written about her – why this performance in particular?

Oh you! You’re so — what a geek you are! (laughs)

I had to use Springsteen pre-1987 appearances, so I had to look for what was available and easy for me to clear for use (in the film). But I chose that particular scene – it’s the moment where Javeed watches the BBC documentary on TV in secret – because when Bruce sings “The River,” he announces that he wrote the song for them (his sister and brother-in-law). I wanted that moment in the story.

I thought it was touching and one of those songs that everyone knows. But also because as sad as The River is, in real life, that story had a happy ending – and it’s lovely how it touches on Javeed’s sister and her impending marriage as well.

Absolutely, at that point in the movie, if people don’t like Bruce by then – they will after that.

Bruce doesn’t appear in the film himself, but his presence is everywhere, almost spiritually omnipresent. It really underlines the feeling you get when music really connects, that it can affect and change the world itself around you. It’s especially emphasized during the scene where Springsteen’s music is set to a hurricane roaring over Javeed’s small town.

That entire sequence is the cornerstone of the film, and the lyrics – (for the songs Dancing in the Dark and The Promised Land) – are very personal to Javeed’s story. I had to make sure that sequence worked – and I wanted the lyrics on the screen as they happened, but not subtitled, so they had to be superimposed (to the buildings). The whole thing was what the movie was built on, those two songs, and how they both relate to him. And I had to make sure the viewer understands how this moves Javeed to action.

And in 1987 there really was a hurricane in England, and when people see this moment, they’ll remember that night.

Despite being set in the ’80s, the film feels sadly all the more timely today, and there’s a lot of the same uncertainty about things as there are now – yet the film is inherently optimistic. Even at the lowest points, it says that through compassion, we can triumph.

I think race is always used as a dividing tool, and I think that — I wanted to show that, yes, we did have that, but we also managed to pull back – we smashed the national front – and it was fantastic. I thought it was important that we show that yes, this is around today, and it was around then, but at the same time, we always have to remember that this past is always around the corner – it’s always going to be used by politicians, and it’s up to us to make sure that they don’t. I wanted to make the link, but remind us that we could smash it then – and we can do so now.

We’re sadly running out of time, even though I think we could talk about Springsteen for hours.

I have talked about him for hours. I’ve done about 300 interviews so far!

I feel that this is the kind of film that will have to be mentioned in future discussions about Bruce’s music. They’re so intertwined now.

Since you’re such a nerd – well, a Springsteen fan, I should say –  let me tell you this: when we had the screening for Bruce, and Bruce was in the audience, his manager came over and said to me that Bruce so loved the film that he was so inspired to go and do something completely new. And now he has co-directed his own movie, WESTERN STARS.

So he’s one of the directors of that film as a result from working with me.

I am so happy that I was able to give that to him in return.