When Monica Alis novel Brick Lane was published in 2003, it received universal critical praise but also stirred up a fiery controversy within Englands Bangladeshi community for what they felt was an unflattering portrayal in its pages. Its difficult to tell whether it was the choice of director Sarah Gavron, Ali or the studio, but the film adaptation of Brick Lane feels safe and devoid of that controversy.
The script centres on Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a Bangladeshi woman leading an unsavoury domestic life in an East London council house with her two daughters and a deplorable husband, Chanu. Taken from her family and placed in an arranged marriage at the age of 18, Nazneen dreams of rejoining her blithe sister back home once again, but instead finds her prayers answered by a young Muslim man named Karim, who gives Nazneen a sewing job that sets up tension in the patriarchal household and a torrid love affair.
Theres little to Gavrons rendering that leads you to believe it was once such a hot topic. Nazneens life is pitiful but she never makes you believe its painful, maybe just very unpleasant. As beautiful as she is, Chatterjee plays the role too lifeless and meek when her turning point comes, it feels exclusively due to Chanu, whos played with amusing vigour by Satish Kaushik. While Gavron imagines the film beautifully, captured admirably by Robbie Ryans camera, theres an undeniable sense of cushioning that prevents the storys trials and tribulations from having any sort of impact.
Unfortunately, the film doesnt quite evoke the same passion and exotic soul as the novel. As lovely as it is to watch, you get the sense that if the screenplay was an original work, the film wouldnt earn nearly as much feverish attention as Alis book did four years ago. (Mongrel Media)