Brick Lane: Sarah Gavron’s Multicultural Tale

Set in multicultural Britain, “Brick Lane” is a contemporary tale of love, an inspirational film that honors cultural differences and celebrates the strength of the human spirit.

The movie, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto Film Fest and has played in several European countries, will be released by Sony Pictures Classics June 13 as counter-programming to the summer’s more dominant pattern of f/x “event” pictures.

Add “Brick Lane” to the growing body of cinematic portraits of multi-racial London and tensions within and between its immigrant communities, which began in the 1980s with Stephen Frears’ “My Beautiful Launderette” and has continued with such work as “East Is East” and “Bend It Like Beckham.”

With few exceptions (Mira Nair’s Indian-U.S. productions), most of these films have been male-centric, a combined result of the gender of their writers and directors.

In contrast, a feminist streak runs through “Brick Lane,” which is based on Monica Ali’s best-selling sprawling novel, adapted (and condensed to the screen) by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones. offering a perceptive look at an intelligent, restless woman searching for “home,” a place to belong, against cultural and social barriers, determined by London’s Asian-Muslim community.

Though the film’s core is a rather familiar, it achieves larger, more pertinent meanings as a result of the new socio-political conditions of a particular religious and racial group in the post 9/11 era.

The life of the protagonist Nazneen (Chatterjee) is turned upside down at the tender age of seventeen. Forced into an arranged marriage to an older man, a chubby goofy man named Chanu (Kaushik), she exchanges her Bangladeshi village home for a block of flats in London’s East End. In this new world, pining for her home and her sister, she struggles to make sense of her existence, while doing her duty to her husband.

A man of inflated ideas (and belly), Chanu tests her compliance, and she, a victim of socialization, complies. Told from birth that she must not fight her fate, Nazneen submits, devoting her life to raising her family and slapping down her demons of discontent. Two decades later, the marriage has turned emotionally and sexually barren, with Nazneen and Chanu raising two precocious teen daughters (Begum and Rahman).

Things change when Karim (Simpson), a hot-headed local man, who delivers her sewing work, bursts into her life. He wants to take on racist British society even if he has to use violence.
Against a background of escalating racial tensions, the couple embarks on an affair that finally forces Nazneen to take charge of her life.

Director Sarah Gavron, who has helmed a BBC TV movie and here makes her feature debut, tells the story with imagery that conveys the particular textures and colors of Asia.

Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee meets the challenges of playing credibly the multi-faceted role of a displaced Bangladeshi wife, sister, mother, and lover, who learns to understand the meanings of being an expatriate, yearning for a place to call home.

In contrast, Satish Kaushiks interpretations of her boorish, older husband and of Christopher Simpsons market trader-lover are too stiff, or not as gently warm and appealing as that of Chatterjee.

End Note

Monica Ali’s debut novel was a finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003.