Brick Lane is about a middle-class Bangladeshi immigrant family in East End of London (staying in the Brick Lane area) and yet it is as relatable as an Indian tale like Mira Nair’s ‘Namesake’. Indeed the principal cast is Indian – Tannishtha Mukherjee and Sathish Kaushik. It follows the story of a 17-year old Nazneen who had an ‘arranged marriage’ to Chanu and moved to London.
The book translates Monica Ali’s world view well and we get a nice capsule loaded with the immigrant experience, patriarchy, feminism, teenage rebellion of the second generation assimilating better to their new society, the post 9/11 world, the discrimination felt by a middle-aged Bangladeshi anglophile who decides it time to go back home.
Sathish Kaushik (Chanu) and Tannishtha Mukherjee (Nazneen) make an odd pair – well that is true to their positions in the novel as well. Sathish is possibly 20 years older, a balding and paunchy man who is bitterly embittered about not ‘fitting in’ the British world he loved so much in his youth. Tannishtha is the typical shy village belle who is now in her mid 30s discovering her sexuality and finding her voice to make her ‘own’ choices about her life and future.
Surely it is some credit to the characterization that we don’t see them as unidimensional caricatures that need to be loved / hated. Indeed the people come across as real and the typical admixture of virtues and failings. So we take Nazneen’s affair with Karim much in the stride as an acknowledgement of her sexual awakening just as we realize that Chanu may be patriarchal and grumpy but he does care for his family and is quite a liberal in his world view.
Nazneen’s life is in sheer contrast with the life of her sister Hasina who ran away from home with her lover, left him when he abused her and has taken to prostitution to survive and ‘have-a-good-time’. While her adventures seem to be lively, we have a foreboding that rather than being liberated she is leading a doomed life and will get the ‘short shrift’ sooner than later in life. Yet she services an important cause in the movie – she awakens Nazneen’s persona to make her choices / mistakes in life, the affair with Karim is a prime example of this ‘new-found’ freedom.
The cramped dwellings are a perfect setting for the cloistered lives that are being disrupted by ‘life’s-forces’ as we speak. The choice of Sathish Kaushik as Chanu is an interesting study – his looks immediately rob the viewer of sympathies for the character but this changes as we get to know him better. At the end of it we don’t see him as the ‘villain-in-the-piece’ anymore. I was instantly reminded of Kaushik’s role as Ramlal (Willy Loman in the original) in the hindi play adaptation of Arthur Miller’s, ‘Death of a Salesman’. But thankfully he is not a doomed character – we get to know his virtues better with time. In particular he is sensitive about his family – grudgingly admiring Nazneen and Shahana for not wanting to go back to home.
Though it deals with serious themes, the movie is not all that drab – it is a bit bittersweet and we hang on to see how will the climax unfold. The unconventional climax is somewhat of a letdown – such things don’t happen in such convenient ways in real life. ‘Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe tobe ekla cholo re … ‘(If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone..) is not the typical ‘candy floss’ endings we are fed in our Bollywood movies. Besides we should remember Aristotle as well who famously said that man is a social animal.