Brick Lane Is A Beautiful Film

From its opening scene all the way through to the picturesque end, this is a sweet humane story. Video

I kept fearing that things would get ugly but they didn’t. Sure there was pain, but this movie is about people who love each other.

Every scene builds to the next and the film ends in a satisfying climax.

Everybody seemed to leave the media screening in a happy mellow state.

Chris Docker writes on

From Sony Classics:

Published to great acclaim in 2003, Monica Ali’s debut novel Brick Lane garnered rapturous reviews and
countless award nominations both in the UK and internationally. A sharply observed story about the life
of a Bangladeshi immigrant girl who comes to London to marry, it is ultimately a universal story about life,
love, cultural difference and the power of the human spirit.
On reading the novel, producer Alison Owen was immediately attracted to the story and saw its potential
as a film: “I read ‘Brick Lane’ and I fell in love with it, and enquired about the option straight away.
However, it wasn’t an easy project and so I didn’t follow it up immediately, but it just haunted me for the
next couple of months. I kept thinking about it and eventually I just gave into the urge, bought the rights
and started putting the package together.”
Once a first draft of the screenplay had been completed, Owen could see the direction that the project
was taking, but realizing that it still needed a lot of work, she thought it a good time to bring a director on
board, and approached Sarah Gavron. Explains Owen: “Sarah’s a director with extremely strong vision.
We sent her a copy of the script as well as the book, which it turned out she’d already read and was
passionate about.” Adds Gavron: “I read the draft and thought it showed lots of potential and came on
board at that stage. What really appealed to me was Nazneen’s journey. The story of a woman finding
her place in the world, and finding a voice, so beautifully told, with such compassion, wit and emotional
Trying to condense a 500 page novel which focuses on the inner thoughts of its central character into a
screenplay, that still maintained the heart of Nazneen’s voyage of discovery, was always going to be a
challenge, but Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan made some bold decisions. Says Gavron: “We tried
to be very faithful to the spirit of the book. But it was impossible to include everything. It’s a very
complicated process because there’s so much that you do want to include. But in the end, we chose to
compress the time frame of the novel and set it all in 2001 with some flashbacks and back story – and
that unlocked for us the scriptwriting process. We went through many drafts before we made that
decision, and it was rather daunting. There’s so much wonderful texture to the novel, but in terms of the
narrative, really it kicked off in 2001 when Nazneen met Karim and her life began to change.”
Adds Morgan: “If you’re trying to distil something down then you have to be quite disciplined with yourself
about what’s really essential, and the film is a very simple journey of a woman finding herself and finding
her own voice. Somehow, that felt like it could be contained in 2001 with 9/11 being the catalyst, so that
the wider world starts to reflect Nazneen’s inner, personal world. There was also a very simple,
organising principle in terms of that complete year, that we could start in spring and end in winter, and I
love the idea that we have a very vivid, bright Bangladesh of her childhood at the beginning set against
the cold, snowy, clean landscape of London at the end of the film.”
Gavron found her collaboration with writer Abi Morgan extremely satisfying: “Abi’s a wonderful, instinctive
writer, who has very strong ideas and lots of rather ingenious solutions. It was a very involved, close,
fulfilling process.” Adds Morgan: “Sarah’s really a writer’s director and Alison Owen is very good at
getting the right alchemy of people together, and I think that was the biggest attraction for me.”
With the final draft of a screenplay in hand, the next hurdle was to find a cast who could take on such
interesting and unusual roles.
Abi Morgan outlines: “The relationship between Chanu and Nazneen was so beautifully and wittily written
in the book, and with such compassion. It was a gift to have a character like Chanu, who is so funny and
didactic, and you set that character against that of Nazneen who is so contained and sophisticated in her
thinking and the collision of that with Karim, this empowered, young, sexual man and it’s very potent. Key
in the film was this notion of two kinds of love; the young, passionate love that takes your breath away
and that changes things, and then, ‘The kind that you don’t notice at first, but which adds a little bit to
itself every day, like an oyster makes a pearl.’ It was essential therefore, to cast the film with actors whose
performances could bring out the nuances, complexities and demands of the roles whilst depicting
characters that are already known to the book reading audience.
To this end, a worldwide search began. Says director Gavron: “We spent a long time casting and looked
very, very widely, watching the work or meeting up with every possible actor in Britain, India, Bangladesh
and some from the United States. We even met non-actors and did some street casting. When you’re
adapting a book, it feels like you’ve got much less leeway in the casting process, because you know the
characters so well. So it was very hard to find the right people for the right parts. We really met
wonderful people and I think the cast we’ve got reflects that process actually, because we’ve got some
Bangladeshi Muslim actors, some who were born in India and some non-actors who are acting for the first
Casting Nazneen was obviously extremely crucial and a challenge for any actress to be able to depict so
much inner emotion with relatively few words. Producer Chris Collins explains: “We saw a lot of actors for
the role of Nazneen and interestingly the very first person we saw when we did our first casting trip to
India was Tannishtha Chatterjee, and because she was the first person, even though we thought she was
fantastic, we then saw everyone else and saw her several times more before we actually cast her. It
seemed too good to be true, that she should walk in first thing on the first day.”
Tannishtha Chatterjee trained at the National School of Drama in Delhi and is known in India for a variety
of film and theatre roles. She has already appeared in two European films in Germany and France and
has toured in theatre around Europe. She was thrilled when she found out that she was to play Nazneen,
explaining: “It’s a dream role for any actress – from the beginning of her journey to the end is a drastic
change, but the challenge is to make her changes subtle. Her story is universal to a lot of women I have
met in Britain. They come here and marry someone. They leave home, feel lonely and don’t speak the
language. It’s a new world for them and so different from their previous lives. Nazneen was lucky that
her husband was a nice person. She starts off as someone who is unsure of herself and through her
strength she becomes independent, questioning things out of her experience in life, which is something
very unique.”
When Chatterjee arrived in the UK she immediately set her mind to preparing and researching the role.
To this end, she met a lot of Bengali women and spent time walking around the Brick Lane area, steeping
herself in the Bengali-UK cross culture. She says: “The language was something I had to work on.
Though I am Indian, I speak English in a different way from the way Bengali women here speak. And I
also wanted to research the religious part of it, because Islam has a different lifestyle the moment you go
to Bangladesh, Islam changes as there are different influences.”
Working with a British director for the first time, Chatterjee was pleasantly surprised by how collaborative
Sarah Gavron was: “She is not a dictator. She doesn’t tell you to walk three feet here, look right and
express this. She lets you do something first and then she says what she likes and what she doesn’t. So
as an actor I feel like I’m also a creative artist here, where I am continuously giving my input.”
The role of Chanu was an equally difficult one to cast, given that his character requires a comic
physicality but also the need for dramatic gravitas.
The production team were extremely fortunate to find Satish Kaushik. Explains Chris Collins: “Satish is
an actor who’s very well known in India for his comic parts but for the last four or five years he’s been
directing, so he didn’t immediately appear on the radar of any of our casting directors. But, at the very
last minute, an inspired leap of imagination from one of them led to a call and a weekend dash to Delhi
and instantly Sarah and I knew that he was Chanu.”
Kaushik feels that his comic background stands him in good stead for the challenge of playing such a
different role: “I’ve played a lot of comic parts in India, but talk to any actor and they will tell you that tragic
parts can be played by comic actors. Tragedy comes out of comedy, and comedy comes out of tragedy.
So I think that being a comic actor helped me to get into the skin of Chanu, because he is a character
who can be very funny.” He continues: “There is a little bit of Chanu in everyone, especially people who
come with a lot of dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can relate to Chanu in terms of a bigger canvas –
Chaplin, Roberto Benigni in ‘Life is Beautiful’, Willy Loman in ‘Death of a Salesman’. These are all
dreamer characters, like Chanu, who lives on hope. He’s an optimist and yet he is a failure. But he
doesn’t show that failure to people or to his family – and that is where you feel for Chanu.”
Tannishtha Chatterjee was delighted to have the opportunity to work with Kaushik: “Satish and I are from
the same drama institute in India. Although obviously he’s my senior and I knew of him, we’d never
worked together. But it’s really nice that we come from the same theatrical background, so we were able
to improvise things, and when you have such an innovative actor performing with you it enhances your
performance. He is also such a funny person and always kept us entertained.”
Christopher Simpson / Karim
The character of Karim provides an important bridge between the Bengali and UK Bengali culture,
between tradition and progress and between duty and passion. To that end it was essential that the role
be filled by somebody who could combine such dichotomies.
Christopher Simpson was aware of the challenges of the role that he took on because of Karim’s
importance in the narrative. He explains: “Karim is a young man from the streets of London with great
aspirations both for himself and for his community. He’s a young radical, but also a character with a great
deal of compassion for Nazneen, and I think in many ways he is a catalyst to her discovering herself. I
see his role in the film as very much being someone who invites her to speak for herself and to discover
Simpson was always concerned with ensuring that he motivated the character effectively and describes
how Sarah Gavron helped him: “There were times in the process of filming that I felt deeply frustrated
because I wondered whether Karim had all the ire, the anger, the frustration and the sense of being
disaffected, of not having a voice and whether all of this was translating onto the screen. Sarah was very
keen to point out to me that we do know the angry young man, that we have seen him everywhere in film,
books and culture. So for her, what was more interesting was to see a potent ally and at times a volatile
youth who is politically engaged and who does have aspirations for himself and for his community, who
has the edge of the street, but who is also compassionate enough to be able to elicit from a very delicate
woman her story and her heart. I think that’s part of his charm for me.”
brick lane
Brick Lane is a real street located in East London in the shadow of the City (financial district) with its modern
tower blocks dedicated to the world of business and its ancient historical roots that go back to Roman times.
The street itself can be seen as the symbolic heart of the film, ever changing and evolving into something
Brick Lane has offered refuge to immigrants into London for 400 years and these communities have all left
their own distinctive mark on the area over the centuries. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, the street
has become the centre of the biggest Bengali community outside of Bangladesh, mainly from the Sylhet
The area has always been regarded as a safe haven for those escaping persecution from abroad. During the
17th and 18th centuries the Protestant Huguenot population were terrorised in Catholic France and many fled
to England, settling in the Spitalfields area close to Brick Lane. The Huguenots were fine craftsmen and
weavers, and these wealthy refugees built new homes for themselves with a wonderfully distinctive
architecture, many of which can still be seen today in the roads around Brick Lane, particularly Fournier
By the late 19th century a new wave of immigration brought Jewish families escaping from Holland, Germany,
Russia and Poland and, for the next century, Brick Lane was the centre of the East End Jewish community
and the heart of the rag trade.
It was to work in the clothing factories around Brick Lane that the young male Bengali workers arrived in the
late 1950s and through the 1960s. As they prospered, many brought over their families and established a
new community in Brick Lane.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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