Recently, The Nerds of Color was honored to be able to interview some of the cast and filmmakers of Blinded by the Light, an excellent movie about how music can inspire us to chase our dreams and overcome the hardships of growing up. To countdown to the movie’s release on August 16, we are releasing a series of interviews chronicling what the dedicated filmmakers behind the film had to say about culture, music, racism, and dreams. To conclude this series, we had the privilege of sitting down with the film’s star, Viveik Kalra (Javed in the film) and real-life inspiration and journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, to discuss all things about the film and culture. Here’s what they had to say:
NOC: Hi Guys! So I’m from a blog called the Nerds of Color. And we specialize in shedding light on groups that are underrepresented within the industry, by promoting films and projects that try to put people of color with less of a voice at the front and center of the industry.
Viveik: That’s cool man! You’re called “Nerds of Color!” It’s a special time!… We’re at a time where we can portray more semi-perfect [multi-dimensional] people and characters.
NOC: As well as the leads in typical mainstream Hollywood cinema that are usually given to Caucasians.
Viveik: I think it’s cool, because there are problems, especially culturally, there are problems and then there are first world problems. So I had to deal culturally with a first world problem, in the way that my father and forefathers had to deal with problems. So it’s a cracking place to be for me in that I don’t have to fight for a voice… And you see the character of Javed in the film sort of torn up…. he’s sort of slightly culturally…. confused. So imagine having your character in one place, but being in and growing up in another place. So your parents got that from their place [where they grew up], but you only know this [other] place. So you can’t connect to that if you’ve got this. But people in [the place you grew up in] are racist towards you, so you’re thinking “that’s all i have.” So it’s just a crazy mental environment to be.
Sarfraz: It’s funny because when I was growing up, listening to Springsteen, I knew so much about Asbury Park, NJ. I knew more about that than I knew about Luton. I felt the iconography of his songs… all these places that he sang about, they kind of felt like they were in my life. And the reason for that is that he was such a great storyteller… and in being specific, he became universal. And weirdly, that’s kind of what we’ve done with this story. There are some specific themes in this… but in that specificity the universality comes out. I have people Tweeting at me “I feel seen as a result of this film.” If you go to a place with absolute truth, then you touch people… so when I first started thinking about [this story], I wanted to do it with love and pain…It’s not just a feel good movie…. it has some real hard theme in there as well. So the final speech feels earned… But the thing is everybody has got those things inside them. So if you do something with truth… that’s how you reach people.
NOC: In a time where the industry is dominated by $200M blockbusters, did you have any difficulties or challenges getting a story about culture made?
Viveik: I think what’s cool about Asians now is that we’re marketable now. Which is amazing. We’re talking about the universality of the story earlier… and a real stamp on that for me was when Warner Bros. backed us. Because they’re a major studio and they’ve clearly seen universality within our story, which is amazing.
Sarfraz: What’s amazing is that they weren’t the only ones! They were one of five or six people who saw it. But I think the reason for that part of it is that this story is broad. It is universal. And there shouldn’t be the assumption that just because some of the lead characters aren’t white that it can’t be a universal story. The assumption should be that if the storytelling is done well, if the direction, the acting, and the story is done well, and has universality to it, people will come to it. So it’s the responsibility of the storytellers to not just assume that just because you got actors with minority it can’t be universal. So when Warner/New Line came… they were like “we’re not actually here to buy films. But I’m going to buy this film because the world needs to see it.” That was not in our game plan, but that was just amazing good fortune. The point about that is why shouldn’t it be universal? It’s about a kid who’s trying to please himself and at the same time please his father, and want to do something interesting, and coming from a crappy town… If I can watch The Breakfast Club, and think it’s universal, having never spent any time with a ginger teenage princess, why can’t this be universal?
NOC: If I can ask one more question, Viveik you have an amazing voice! And the musical sequence was just so much fun. What was it like filming and doing the “Born To Run” scene?
Viveik: That took a while! That scene took a good — over the course of three weeks, we did other stuff as well, but that took ages! And you’d think we wouldn’t go to the actual town that it was based, and go around running up and down and singing, but we did do that! So it was mental. It was just madness!
Sarfraz: The market scene too!
Viveik: Yeah that was a special moment! At that point… I just separated myself and the character so far…. I was sitting there thinking, “I need to sound really really good for this…” Little did I realize I had an earpiece in my ear with music blaring, and I was yelling “louder, please! louder,” to get it as loud as possible so I could then be like shouting it. However, Gurinder just gets my voice raw… and she played it for me once and I was horrified!
NOC: Thank you both again so much for your time and for this film! This was an amazing movie!
And so concludes our interviews with the filmmakers and cast behind Blinded by the Light. I absolutely encourage everyone to go and see this movie! It speaks to a universal truth about cultures and generational gaps within families, and is something everyone can relate to.
For more Blinded by the Light awesomeness, check out this new featurette below featuring Sarfraz and Gurinder!
Blinded by the Light hits theaters August 16!