The star of a new film telling the true story of a British Pakistani journalist inspired to write by the music of Bruce Springsteen has joked that current chart music “no longer has any meaning” now that he too has discovered The Boss.
In Blinded By The Light, Viveik Kalra plays Javed, a character based on the young Sarfraz Manzoor, who grew up in Luton in the 1980s.
The coming-of-age film is based on Manzoor’s book, Greetings From Bury Park, and tells the tale of the impact Springsteen’s music had on his life.
Set in 1987, Kalra says he studied all of the star’s albums prior to that.
“It was a daunting prospect at first because it’s not the type of musician I’d think that I’d have a natural sort of affinity towards,” he tells Sky News. “But somehow, all of a sudden, while playing this character who is in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen, I’m having this epiphany moment myself.
“I’m like, wow the words are really meaningful. And then all of a sudden I can’t listen to Top 40 music anymore because it has no meaning. I’m having like a semi-midlife crisis at 20 years old. It was the weirdest thing ever.”
Speaking about his own inspirations growing up, he says: “I used to listen to Usher and Ja Rule. So I don’t think lyrically the words have quite as much meaning.
“But I think seeing anyone that looks like myself mirrored within a culture was really cool. To see Asian people on telly was really cool because I think subconsciously that’s a big thing that people want, to see yourself reflected within a culture that is your own. Or in popular culture. I think that’s really important and that’s what I latched on to when I was young.”
Blinded By The Light is Kalra’s first film. Despite having to play a real person who is still alive to see his performance, the young actor says that didn’t make it harder.
“It’s quite cool… it’s his actual life,” he says. “But it wasn’t like I had to play Churchill or something, someone who’s really instantly historically recognisable. So I didn’t do an impression of Sarfraz but I took little titbits of him that I wanted to place in this 16-year-old kid from Luton, 1987.”
But for Aaron Phagura, who plays best mate Roops – the school friend who introduced Manzoor to Springsteen, and is still his best mate today – that was the biggest pressure.
“I feel like that was the most nerve-racking thing for me, playing not only someone that existed but someone that’s actually alive and going to be watching this portrayal of him,” he says.
“Of course, you don’t wanna do an impression of him but I kind of felt like I want him to watch and see a version of himself. And I literally just spoke to him last night and he said watching me was like deja vu. It was the best compliment I could have got after taking this role. Everything else is just a bonus, but for me my main goal was for him to see him in me.”
Phagura says he too has become a big Springsteen fan.
“It took me a while just to actually enjoy his music and understand what it was about his lyrics that resonated so well to people,” he says. “And then when I did, it was almost like I felt like everyone of my age, everyone in my friendship group, should automatically like him as well, but they haven’t taken it in the context I have.
“Do you know what… the way this film’s kind of introduced us to Springsteen – because it’s not normal for someone in their 20s in Britain to be listening to Springsteen now, it’s very rare that you find someone like that.
“Not that [Springsteen] needs it, but I think people need it in a way.
“His lyrics and what he stands for is so universal and so timeless that the music that he made in the ’70s and ’80s can still resonate with people now, you know, 30, 40 years later.”
- Blinded By The Light is out in cinemas on Friday