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Home > Movies > Reviews

Brick Lane: A convincing account of an immigrant

Aseem Chhabra | September 11, 2007 17:20 IST

A still from Brick Lane.

Until a week ago, I had not heard Tannishtha Chatterjee's name. But then last Monday, at 9 am, I attended the world premiere of British director Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane at the Telluride Film Festival.

The film is based on Monica Ali's critically acclaimed 2003 novel. Chatterjee plays Ali's protagonist, Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman who is married off at the age of 17 to Chanu (a very convincing Satish Kaushik) -- an overweight and overbearing man, who is a complete failure, and who brings his wife to the immigrant neighborhood in London's [Images] East End. 

Nazneen is a quiet observer in the film. She moves the film's narrative with her voice over. Otherwise, she has very little dialogues. But even though she is small built, Chatterjee carries the weight of the film with her big eyes, her bright smile, her colourful saris, covering her head whenever she steps out of her apartment and the glow on her face.  

Chatterjee's performance is a star-making vehicle and that is what I told her after the film's screening. She broke into a smile.

Trained at the National School of Drama in New Delhi, Chatterjee played a bit role in Shyam Benegal's [Images] Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. She has also performed in a couple of small European films.

But the exposure that she is getting -- last week in Telluride and this week at the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival -- is bound to take Chatterjee's career to a new level.

Ali's Brick Lane covered Nazneen's entire life -- from her birth to adulthood in London, where she finally made the decision to take charge of her life. Gavron's film focuses on Nazneen's life in 2001 -- the year she became an empowered woman. 

The film, based on a screenplay by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones, starts sometime in the spring and then moves through the fall -- the tragedy of 9/11, the after affects on the lives of Muslim immigrants in the UK, and ends later in winter. 

All the life occurrences -- births and one tragic death, are covered through flashbacks � as are Nazneen's sister Hasina's letters, which occupied a chunk of the middle section of the book.

And then there is the liaison between Nazneen and Karim (Christopher Simpson). Karim is a young, confident, sexy and handsome Bangladeshi man -- everything that Chanu is not. Above all, Karim pays attention to Nazneen. Everything about Nazneen's and Karim's relationship looks wrong, but the on-screen sexual chemistry between Chatterjee and Simpson makes it all feel right. 

A still from the film.The scenes between Nazneen and Karim do not involve any substantial nudity or lovemaking. But I can safely say that these are some of the hottest scenes ever played between two young South Asian actors.

Under Gavron's direction and the keen eye of her cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Chatterjee and Simpson play the forbidden afternoon games, their own Last Tango in Brick Lane, in a dark, curtained down and yet very colorful apartment. And Nazneen finally learns the meaning of falling in love and becoming a woman. 

Credit also must go to Simon Elliott and Michael O'Conner -- the film's production and costume designers, and composer Jocelyn Pook (Stanley Kubrick's [Images] Eyes Wide Shut), who brought a lot of authenticity and emotional depth to the film through their colors, fabrics, music and sounds.

Brick Lane is Gavron's first feature length film. The filmmaker was trained at London's National Film and Television School. One of her teachers was Stephen Frears, who directed two of the classic South Asian immigrant stories set in London -- My Beautiful Launderette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, both based on scripts by Hanif Kureishi, and also the brilliant Dirty Pretty Things.  

It seems like Gavron has learnt a lot of good stuff from Frears -- especially his keen eye of capturing the subtle nuances, the joys, the sadness and sometimes the dark side of immigrant life. 

Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha have directed very convincing South Asian immigrant experience stories in the US and the UK. But with Brick Lane, Gavron proves something else, just as Frears did with his two London-based South Asian sagas and Damian O'Donnell did with East is East. Brick Lane shows that a sensitive outsider can do an equal amount of justice to an immigrant story.

Brick Lane opens in the UK on November 17. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are scheduled to attend the premiere. Sony Pictures Classic will release the film in the US next year. Plans are also underway to bring the film to India.

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