When Sarah Gavron, the 2007 BAFTA award winner for This Little Life, set out to adapt Monica Ali’s Brick Lane into a feature film, she realised that the England she grew up in might be multi-cultural, but only on the surface.
Shooting for Brick Lane, which is scheduled to release in India on Friday, gave the director her first insight into London’s South Asian culture. The 2007 screen adaptation of the best selling novel revolving around the Bangladeshi community in Britain, has an Indian cast.
It might come across as yet another offbeat, cross over film on the lines of Meera Syal’s Anita and Me or Gurindar Chaddha’s Bend It Like Beckham, but for the fact that the director had little, or no South Asian influences in her life barring a documentary she shot in Bangladesh a few years ago.
“I have known people from multi-cultural communities all my life,” Gavron (40) told Hindustan Times in a telephonic interview from London. “But when I set off to make the film I realised I lacked an inside view to the lives they led.”
Brick Lane, spread across two decades, tells the story of a young Bangladeshi woman, Nazneem (Tannishtha Chatterjee) who moves to London in the 1980s to live with her much older husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik).
Poor, unhappy and trapped in a loveless marriage with two children, she falls in love with a deliveryman, Karim (Christopher Simpson) who brightens her life. But in the aftermath of 9/11, Karim turns into a fanatic and her husband, Chanu unexpectedly becomes the voice of reason attempting to promote peace in the community.
The filmmaker believes that even though the characters are from Bangladesh, settling for an Indian cast was the right option. “Cate Blanchett was cast as Queen Elizabeth I, despite being Australian,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where actor’s come from as long as they capture the essence of their roles, something Tannishtha Chatterjee and Satish Kaushik did really well.”
Gavron worked hard to bridge the cultural gap between her upbringing and South Asian communities, which tend to be wary of outsiders.
She immersed herself into Asian film and literature, but found that to do justice to the story she needed firsthand contact with the Bangladeshi community. While this was a hard at first, she found help in a kind Bangladeshi man, who introduced her to his friends, family and important members of the community.
“Working with them gave me the insight I needed,” she said. “I spent time with them, learned about the food they ate and what made their world.”