The movie Brick Lane, based on the Booker-nominated novel by Monica Ali, has won critical praise and courted controversy at the same time.
We caught up with Satish Kaushik, who played one the protagonists of the film, to talk about the movie and the controversy.
There have been reports of Bangladeshis being upset with the movie.
It is just small number of people who have got together and are doing this. Some of them have not even read the novel. They are thinking there must be something in the film that is hurting the sensibilities of Bangladeshis.
Otherwise, the rest of the (Bangladeshi) community is happy and they want to see the community being represented in the West in a film. In fact, the film reflects Bangladeshis in a very nice manner. There were a lot of people in the unit who were Bangladeshis. When we were shooting, they did not find anything objectionable.
It was reported that Prince Charles opted out of watching the film.
You know how royal families are very sensitive about these issues. It was really disappointing for us as we were very excited. By watching this movie, the family would give lot of respect to the Asian community. It is sad that they opted out. It should not have been done like this.
Our gala premiere was going to be held on October 29. But it is now called off and the whole excitement is gone.
But then, we have got bigger publicity because of this. The film is going to be shown on October 26 and we will have a gala premiere at the London Film Festival. And just two weeks after Prince Charles opted out of the premiere, Brick Lane got two awards at the Dinard Film Festival in northern France -- we got the best screenplay award and the best audience response award. That says something about the film.
How did you get the offer to act in Brick Lane?
For the role of Chanu, many screen tests were conducted all over the world -- in Bangladesh, the US, the UK, Pakistan and India. But Lovleen Tandon, the international casting director for the movie who is based in Delhi and Mumbai, contacted me last year.
You had to give a screen test?
Yes, I had to give a screen test because they go by proper procedures, unlike us. I had to perform a few scenes from the movie in front of the camera. They liked it and called me for another screen test and this time it was with Tannishtha Chatterjee, who played my wife in the film.
The producer Chris Collin and the director Sarah Gavron came to India for my screen test.
What is Brick Lane all about?
Brick Lane is actually a place in London where many Bangladeshis live. It is about one such Bangladeshi immigrant family. It's the story of a girl called Nazneen (played by Chatterjee) who gets married to an older guy, that's me. My character is called Chanu.
Nazneen comes to London after she gets married to me and stays in Brick Lane. How a simple village girl finds her way and how from a nonentity she becomes a single identity -- that is what the movie all about.
Is it about her breaking her relationship with her husband?
No, it's actually about finding her own identity. It is Nazneen's travelogue. Her pompous husband is not treating her well. He can't think beyond himself. He is a big failure but still he puts on the façade that all is well. You don't like Chanu in the beginning of the movie, but later you discover that he is a man with a good heart. He is very intelligent. He is well-read person. Sometime he is funny, sometimes he is cruel. Chanu is a multilayered character.
Did you have to go through any workshops?
We had 15 days of rehearsal in London before the shoot. I came to know later that actors like Boman Irani, Pankaj Kapur, Anupam Kher, Irrfan Khan all gave screen tests for this role.
What were the criteria for selecting you?
They needed a person like me -- little well fed, healthy, chubby, round face, and of course good looks like mine (laughs). Actually, they go according to the characteristics of the character. If you read the novel you come to know that Chanu is no extraordinary looking guy, who is a bit on the fatter side. And they were looking for an actor who could fit in this character -- they did not want to make an actor look like that. He should already possess those characteristics. Plus, they needed an actor who could act well too (laughs).
It was tough role and suited me well. For me, it was a good challenge.
How long were you in London for the shoot?
The first 15 days, we were rehearsing. Then we had to research, meet the director, meet the Bangladeshis in London. Then I had to go through diction training for English as well as a Bangladeshi accent. They have a costume trial, then the makeup trial. They block the whole film well in advance.
Since you are a director, how different is their working style from our working style?
It is not much different. They are well organised and do a lot of homework, which nowadays we have started here in India also. There whole working style is totally planned. Their shooting days, holidays everything is planned. Everybody is responsible for their own job. Whether it is the costume designer, the cameraman or the set designer -- even their pick-up guy. If you have to leave at 6:30, at around 6:29 the car will be there.
As soon as you are entering the studio they will announce that Mr Kaushik is entering the studio. Then they will announce that he is heading for makeup, then that he is ready and coming towards the costume room.
They will keep telling you that you have to be on the set. They will keep announcing -- there is five minutes to go, then two minutes to go, and then someone will come and take you to the sets. They are totally professional and planned. That is the whole difference.
How was it working with Sarah Gavron?
Sarah Gavron is a fantastic director. The way the movie is shot says it all. The whole credit should go to her. Being a Britisher, she could understand the Asian notion very well. She would always say how Indians react in certain situations. Here, we do scenes totally melodramatically. She taught us to underplay our emotions.
How was it working with Tannishtha?
Tannishtha and me are from same school -- the National School of Drama. So, we hit it off well on the very first day when we met for the screen test. We complimented each other's screen chemistry. She is a bright and intelligent actress.
Do you plan to cast her in your movies?
Why not? If there is a role in which she can fit in I will instantly approach her.
What has the feedback for the film been like?
I met a lot of Bangladeshis in Toronto who said I look more Bangladeshi than anyone can and that I performed exactly like a Bengali. They have appreciated my work.
What is the next project that you are working on?
I am making a film with Anupam Kher under the banner Karol Baugh, called Tere Sang. We are introducing two new faces. We have finalised the male lead as Rulaan Mumtaz. The female lead still has to be cast. It is a nice love story. This subject has never been touched -- it is about a 15-year-old girl who gets pregnant with a 17-year-old boy's child. It is handled very sensitively as the topic is very intense.
Will that not create controversy?
It is handled carefully. We have shown the children's point of view, the parents' point of view as well as the moral point of view. We are trying to show why children do these things at an early age.
Anything else you would like to share?
My company Karol Baugh has signed a four-film deal with UTV, out of which two will go on the floors by this yearend. It will be directed by Ajay Karthik and will be called Hawai Dada. Then another film Anupam Kher will direct and it will be called Dosti Badi Cheez Hai.