There’s no doubt that Brick Lane (2007) is a very pretty film…. but it also left me with a serious case of the blahs. I haven’t read the original novel that it was based on, but I gather that the scope of events has been seriously compressed for the screen, with all sorts of supporting characters and dramatic meat excised… leaving behind some very weak soup indeed. To summarise, this film tells the story of ‘Nazneen’, a Bengali girl from rural Bangladesh, who is married off to a man more than twice her age, and whisked away to a low-rent flat in London, where she eventually raises two daughters of her own. I spent much of the running time tensed, waiting for something terribly violent or distressing to happen to the meek, practically mute Nazneen and her family… but by the time the end credits rolled, the other shoe still hadn’t dropped, and I didn’t know whether to feel cheated or relieved. The writers spent a fair amount of time setting up the threat posed by a bunch of right-wing bovver boys called “The Lion Hearts”… but all they ever did was print up some leaflets and shout a few racist slurs from off-screen!
For me, the major villain of the piece was Nazneen’s husband, ‘Chanu’, who one of the screenwriters rather bizarrely describes as a “sympathetic clown”. After the scene in the bedroom where he abruptly started humping his unwilling, wincing wife, without so much as a “please” or “thank-you”, I outright despised him… and no amount of subsequent wackiness (or supposed “wisdom”) could ever wash that sour taste from my mouth. Yes, he pays a little lip-service to the strength of his wife and daughters before leaving them to fend for themselves, but I don’t believe that he believed a word he was saying. He was just an insufferable, chauvinistic bore, and a douche-bag of the highest order… although that’s no reflection on the actor, Satish Kaushik, who does some great work in the role… I just have an aversion to men who treat women like doormats (and/or a “Fleshlight”).
As for the female cast members: Tannishtha Chatterjee, who plays the long-suffering Nazneen, may be extremely easy on the eye, but her character had so little spirit or spine, it was hard to root for her as a protagonist. At one point she opines: “No one told me there are different kinds of love. The kind that starts deep and slowly wears away… that seems you will never use it up and then one day it is finished. Then there is the kind you do not notice at first but which adds a little bit to itself every day like an oyster makes a pearl, grain by grain, a jewel from the sand. That is the kind I have come to know.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure she’s describing Stockholm Syndrome there. Feh! Far more appealing was her unorthodox and enterprising neighbour, ‘Razia’, played by Harvey Virdi… who’s had minor roles in Bend It Like Beckham, Anita and Me, and It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, as well as Sanjeev Bhaskar’s episode of Little Crackers, and the BBC sitcom Citizen Khan. I also have to give a shout-out to Lana Rahman, who played the youngest daughter, ‘Bibi’, and Naeema Begum, who played the elder daughter ‘Shahna’… neither of seem to have worked since, but I thought they were both very natural and convincing in the roles. Oh, and the mildly-threatening-until-she-isn’t money-lender, ‘Mrs. Islam’, was played by Lalita Ahmed… who’s also appeared in It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, Bollywood Queen and Bhaji on the Beach.
Note: I wasn’t specifically looking for it, but as the end credits rolled by I did notice Amara Karan’s name listed in the “Thank You” section. Intriguing!