Brick Lane: A Nuanced Look at an Arranged Marriage

Brick Lane tells the story of the awakening of Nazneen, (Tannishtha Chatterjee) a woman who was shipped off at the age seventeen in an arranged marriage to an older man she never met in London. Nazneen's story is in many ways a universal story about the restrictions placed on women in different cultures. For many years she lived in silence and misery taking care of the home, her husband and her children in the immigrant neighborhood of Brick Lane in London.

Brick Lane is a very British film. Think Mike Leigh. It's quiet, nothing blows up and tells a story of a woman whose life is quite unremarkable. Nazneen is stuck, she believes that life is about endurance, but when she meets Karim (Christopher Simpson) a young activist who gives her sewing work, she comes alive. Karim gives her the gift of passion, and while after all these years she has grown to love her bumbling, unsuccessful husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik), more importantly through Karim she has grown to love and trust herself.

Women are everywhere in the creative company of Brick Lane. The film is based on the award winning novel by Monica Ali, was written by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones was produced by Alison Owens along with Christopher Collins, and it was directed by Sarah Gavron.

This is the kind of movie where you have to pay attention. It's not light and fluffy. If you are looking for a different, interesting story about a woman whose voice and story is usually not heard or seen, check out this film. The film opens in NY and LA today and will roll out across the country over the next few weeks.

Some Thoughts from Sarah Gavron, Director of Brick Lane

One thing that is important to me in this work is to go and meet as many female directors and producers as I can to get their voices and thoughts out to the world. I was able to meet director Sarah Gavron as she spoke to a group of reporters. Here are some things I learned about her, the film as well as some quotes.

This is her first full length feature film. She first started working in documentaries to tell a story and change the world but spent a lot of time fantasizing about fiction so she retrained herself to direct fiction.

Brick Lane was a daunting film for a number of reasons:
It was about a community that was outside me. It was based on this acclaimed novel with myriad fans. It was political from the interior told the story from a marginalized voice of Nazneen.
The story is about her sexual awakening but not about sex -- it's about the effect it has. It can be more suggestive if you leave more to the imagination. One of the interesting things is the effect it had on the rest of her life and how it infused the rest of her life.
The film is not political in an obvious way. It's rare to see a film that just deals with the female perspective and narrows the world down to that.
These women's stories are not told so often. We see women who wear western dress who come to England to get rid of their cultural roots. You don't see the more traditional woman having a quieter journey.

Three weeks into the shoot they got a threat as they were about to shoot exteriors on Brick Lane. Turns out it was a small fringe group who were citing scenes not even in the book and they tried to shut down production. It all blew up when Germaine Greer wrote that the Bangladeshi community ought not to see the film, then and in response Salman Rushdie said that was ridiculous. On top of everything the film was also selected to screen for a benefit that Prince Charles would attend. After all the press reports, the Prince backed out.

When talking about the lack of female directors:
The Time Out book of 1,000 films only had five by women. It's quite striking. I'm hopeful that things are changing. I think I am benefiting from the women a half a generation before me like Jane Campion, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha who made films that reached wider audiences. Now people are more open to more women centered and women directed films. I think there's a real sea change happening.

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