Brick Lane (15)



Drama (2007)
102mins UK

Starring: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson
Director: Sarah Gavron
Writer(s): Laura Jones, Abi Morgan
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Wrenched from the security and comfort of family life in Bangladesh, 17-year-old Nazneen enters into an arranged marriage to portly Chanu - a man old enough to be her father - who spirits her away to the concrete prison of a housing estate in London's East End. Nazneen dutifully follows the path that life has chosen for her, bearing two daughters, and befriends rebellious neighbour Razia, who encourages the young wife to earn a little extra money for her family by sewing garments for local businessman Karim. The moment Razia meets the wheeler-dealer, something within her stirs.

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LondonNet Film Review
Brick Lane

Since its publication in 2003, Brick Lane by Monica Ali has inspired adulation and condemnation with equal fervour...

Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishtha Chatterjee) in Brick Lane. Optimum Releasing. The debut novel was nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the George Orwell Prize for political writing, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and The Guardian Fiction Prize. Ali herself won Newcomer Of The Year at the 2004 British Book Awards. However, some residents of the area of east London depicted in the novel were not so lavish in their praise, claiming that the Brick Lane of Ali's rich invention bears scant resemblance to the place they call home, and that the book portrays the Bangladeshi community in a deeply negative light.

When director Sarah Gavron announced her intention to shoot a film version on location, the media fanned the flames of controversy with incendiary reports of protests and uproar. Adding fuel to the fire, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall pulled out of a high profile charity screening of Gavron's film. As a result, for only the second time since World War II, there was no Royal Film Performance this year.

Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Shahana (Naeema Begum), Bibi (Lana Rahman) and Chanu (Satish Kaushik) in Brick Lane. Optimum Releasing.The story revolves around 17-year-old Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee). Wrenched from the security and comfort of family life in Bangladesh, Nazneen enters into an arranged marriage to portly Chanu (Satish Kaushik) - a man old enough to be her father - who spirits her away to the concrete prison of a housing estate in London's East End. Nazneen dutifully follows the path that life has chosen for her, bearing two daughters - Shahana (Naeema Begum) and Bibi (Lala Rahman) - and cooking and cleaning while Chanu blunders from one low wage job to the next. "I will have new employment by the end of the week," he says chirpily after one setback.

His wife, meanwhile, is forced to live vicariously through the letters of her beloved sister Hasina (Zafreen), whose romantic travails fire Nazneen's imagination. "Our mother told us that we must not run from our fate. What cannot be changed must be borne. The test of life is to endure," observes Nazneen during one of the many reminiscences to childhood, which punctuate the film. Venturing outside the four walls of her home, Nazneen befriends rebellious neighbour Razia (Harvey Virdi), who encourages the young wife to earn a little extra money for her family by sewing garments for a local businessman called Karim (Christopher Simpson). The moment Razia meets the wheeler-dealer, something within her stirs. "Don't make trouble for yourself," advises Razia sensibly. "I already have," replies Nazneen, who embarks on an extra-marital affair that seems to offer some escape from the drudgery of her existence. While Nazneen finds herself through Karim, he pursues radicalism through a group called The Bengal Tigers, igniting racial tensions on the estate in the aftermath of September 11. Meanwhile, Chanu slides further into debt with loan shark Mrs Islam (Lalita Ahmed).

Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishtha Chatterjee) walking down Brick Lane in Brick Lane. Optimum Releasing. Brick Lane is beautifully crafted, thanks in no small part to director of photography Robbie Ryan, who paints rural Bangladesh as a colourful, vibrant paradise of idyllic childhoods. These dreamy flashbacks contrast with the earthy tones of London, a multi-cultural melting pot which threatens to choke Nazneen's spirit. The rich characterisation and intricate plot strands of Ali's tome have been simplified greatly by screenwriters Abi Morgan and Laura Jones. The tragic-comic Chanu makes the biggest impression, beautifully portrayed Kaushik, whose boundless optimism and lack of social graces cannot disguise a pure heart. "As long as I have my family with me, I am as strong as any man alive," he beams.

Chatterjee is beguiling, with a beautifully expressive face that reflects Nazneen's maelstrom of emotions, and she gels effectively with Simpson. Considering the extraordinary, topsy-turvy odyssey of Brick Lane from page to screen, it's ironic that Gavron's picture should be so cosy and languid. Indeed, it is very hard to imagine this well-acted tale of yearning and cultural difference sparking fierce passion or discord - a contented sigh or wry smile, perhaps.

- Kim Hu

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