Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a Pakistani teenager living in Luton in the 1980s. Struggling under the leash of his dictatorial father, Malik (Kulvinda Ghir), Javed harbours a longheld desire to be a writer. But, assailed on an almost daily basis by the racist taunts of brutal skinheads and the depravations of the Thatcher government, he realises his first need is to get a decent education and then get the hell out of there.
On his first day at sixth-form college, he meets up with Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh teenager, who – like Javed – is always plugged in to his Walkman. When Javed asks what he’s listening to, Roops lends him a couple of Bruce Springsteen cassesttes. ‘You can thank me later,’ he says. Javed is of course, doubtful. Springsteen? That’s dad-rock, isn’t it? But when he finally does listen, the first track he hears is Born to Run – and he has something of an epiphany. Springsteen seems to be singing about Javed’s life, about a kid on the edge who dreams of escape. And pretty soon, Javed is seeing the Boss as something like his spirit guide. Perhaps there really is a brighter future waiting for him. But then Malik loses his job and all bets are off.
Gurinder Chadha’s film is an eminently likeable affair, based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s autobiographical book, Greetings From Bury Park. Javed is a charming hero and there are plenty of scenes here to keep audiences entertained – though it definately helps to be Springsteen-literate. The film’s at its best when protagonists are joyfully interracting with the music – a frantic chase around the streets of Luton to the strains of Thunder Road is a standout and I also love the scenes where the Boss’s lyrics are projected onto the landscape as Javed strides determinedly through a storm.
The film’s uneven though, and the hostility between Javed and his father feels a little over-familiar. Furthermore, I’m not sure I quite buy the adoring English teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell), who enters Javed’s composition for a prestigious award without running it by him first. At one-hour-fifty-seven minutes, the film is overstuffed – it could lose twenty minutes of running time without sacrificing anything in the way of storyline.
That said, this is an entertaining tale and it is nice to relive those early Springsteen tracks in all their glory. I also worshipped at the Boss’s altar back in the day.