Brick Lane

Brick Lane

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

Read Jeff Robson's film review of Brick Lane

The first extra in this package is a chit-chat with Hanif Kureishi and Monica Ali at London's ICA that looks and sounds like a home-movie, complete with shaky camera and clumsy cuts. But none of that really matters because Kureishi, the man who gave us My Beautiful Launderette and The Buddha Of Suburbia, is an old-hand at this sort of thing – honest, funny, a little mischievous. What was it like for him, more than 20 years ago, as an "ethnic" writer tackling some of the same issues Ali confronted in the novel that became the film – race, identity, alienation? "I find your work quite interesting," he says he used to hear a lot, "but why do you have to write about Asians? Why can't you write about white people like everyone else?"

Director Sarah Gavron says her biggest challenge was adapting Ali's 500-page novel for the screen. Much of the novel is "internal", an interior monologue by Nazneen, the main character. A daunting task for any director, and perhaps more so for Gavron, whose background is in shorts (she had just one feature-length movie under her belt, This Little Life, for the BBC). She was also a white, English director attempting to bring to life a story about a Bangladeshi woman. Gavron says she took heart from other "outsiders" like Ang Lee (Sense And Sensibility) and Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth), but says her intention was never to recreate the minutiae of day-to-day life in Brick Lane's Asian community. Rather, she wanted simply to tell the story of a woman struggling to find her own way, to show the "emotional truth" of Nazneen's journey.

Copy picture

There were other challenges. Casting was crucial. Satish Kaushik, who plays Nazneen's husband Chanu, is a respected actor and director but this was his first major role in an English-language production. Finding the right Nazneen was even more important, and it wasn't simply a case of screen-testing every actress that had ever played a similar role — this was new territory, says Gavron, because there had never been a leading character like Nazneen before.

In a rare stroke of luck, however, the very first actress to audition for the part was Tannishtha Chatterjee. Gavron says her mind was already made up, but still saw another 300 hopefuls before offering the role to Chatterjee.

A lot of thought has gone into these extras, and it shows. Thankfully, there's not too much of the usual backslapping and mutual appreciation, and it's a pleasant change to hear from the likes of the casting director and associate director - "unsung heroes" who normally never get a look-in.

One quibble, however. There are a number of references to the protests, by members of the Bangladeshi community, that disrupted the production, but these are downplayed throughout the extras. The protests were reported in the national press – The Guardian and The Independent both quoted protestors who objected to the film's negative portrayal of the Brick Lane community – but these are given short shrift. Perhaps this was a storm in a teacup, as Ali et al say, but a bit of perspective would have been good.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2008
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Brick Lane packshot
A Bangladeshi woman struggles to come to terms with a new life in Britain and her own identity.
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Product Code: OPTD1149

Region: 2

Ratio: 1:2.35 CinemaScope

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: A conversation with Monica Ali and Hanif Kureishi at the ICA, exploring Brick Lane, interview with Sarah Gavron, interview with Tannishtha Chatterjee and Christopher Simpson, interview with Satish Kaushik, theatrical trailer, commentary by Sarah Gavron (director) and Chris Collins (producer), scene specific commentaries

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