The literary origins of Saturday night's movie aren't apparent, especially in Tannishtha Chatterjee's moving performance.
12 Sep 2013 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 30 Sep 2021 - 2:46 PM

“In all my life, I have never heard you say what you want,” the 14-year-old daughter says with passion to her mother in Brick Lane.  We glimpse the mother, Nazneen, growing up in Bangladesh, but mostly she's in London in her early 30s in an arranged marriage with a chubby, jovial man.

The story at the core of this film is that she eventually finds her voice but it's an internal journey and internal journeys are much easier to explore in literature. That said, director Sarah Gavron has done a wonderful job of using the camera, the sound design, everything at her disposal, to reveal this hidden landscape cinematically in her adaptation of Monica Ali's novel, which runs to hundreds of pages.

Gavron has said that Indian-born Tannishtha Chatterjee, whom she cast as Nazneen, “instinctively” understood the role: “We knew she could make the tiny emotional shifts involved on this journey.”

In the last few months, listening to directors talk about casting and performance at various film festivals, many have mentioned that it's all about the eyes. In Brick Lane, most definitely, Tannishtha Chatterjee's face and eyes do all Nazneen's talking. They tell the audience of the turmoil and sadness underneath the surface.

I read somewhere that Chatterjee, to some degree, feared that her on-screen husband Charnu would steal the show. He doesn't but Indian director and actor Satish Kaushik, in his first English-language role, does play Charnu beautifully and with a good deal of complexity.

As an aside, I found it surprising to learn that Chatterjee studied chemistry before moving into acting, but not surprising that she is also a recording artist because she has such control of her voice. It was a delight to see her in this year's Sydney Film Festival competition title Monsoon Shootout. She didn't accompany writer/director Amit Kumar to Sydney but she has been to Australia at least once as a guest of the Asia Pacific Film Awards.

Nazneen's calm dignity is what makes Brick Lane such a quiet, delicate film – the kind of film long since elbowed out of cinemas – but one that still manages to touch on serious themes such as the experience of immigration and 9/11's effect on Muslim communities in the west.

Gavron has been linked to The Fury, a UK film in development that's about the suffragist movement. The screenplay is by Abi Morgan, who co-wrote Brick Lane with Aussie writer Laura Jones. (Morgan also wrote The Iron Lady and Shame with its director, Steve McQueen.)

“I always said, I would not marry and be sent far away, but my mother chose me an educated man living abroad,” Nazneen says early in Brick Lane. “If Allah wanted us to ask questions he would have made us men.”

I bet the characters in The Fury don't say anything similar.

For those wanting to hear Gavron speak directly about the film, I recommend this clip and this Q&A.


Watch 'Brick Lane'

Monday 4 October, 7:35pm on SBS World Movies / Now streaming at SBS On Demand

UK, India, 2007
Genre: Drama
Language: English, Bengali
Director: Sarah Gavron
Starring: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Christopher Simpson, Satish Kaushik, Zafreen

Brick Lane review - For those who loved the book, be prepared.
A vibrant music score coupled with moving performances enhanced this beautiful story.

Scenes from a movie: four memorable moments with Gael García Bernal
Take a closer look at the beloved Mexican actor’s impressive career in four fantastic films screening at SBS On Demand
Movies Leaving SBS On Demand: October
Don't miss your chance to watch these standout feature films leaving SBS On Demand throughout October 2021.
TV Movie Guide: 4 - 10 October
When it comes to movies, there's something for everybody on SBS, SBS VICELAND, NITV and SBS On Demand. Find out what's screening where and when.
SBS World Movies Weekly Highlights: 4 - 10 October
Your guide to some of the stories from around the world, screening on Australia's own HD SBS World Movies channel (Digital channel 32).
Discover the various vampires currently roaming SBS
Opera capes and widow’s peaks are out, seductive smiles and bloody allegories are in, with the vampires of SBS promising to put a sharp-toothed smile on your face.
What to watch at this year’s Queer Screen Film Festival
With the ninth Queer Screen Film Festival streaming to your screens at home, we’ve pulled together a guide on what to see based on how you feel.
SBS On Demand: Scandinavian Cinema Collection
From Oscar-winning dramas to Nazi zombies in Norway. SBS On Demand is showcasing the best of modern Nordic film with the Scandinavian Cinema Collection.