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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BRICK LANE (article first published : 2008-05-26)

Inspired by Monica Aliís first novel, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003, Brick Lane is a gripping and well-acted, if somewhat leisurely, slice-of-life tale set in London.

Itís the story of a Bangladeshi village girl, Nazneem (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who, in the 80s, moves to London, aged 17, for an arranged marriage with an obese and rather ineffectual man. He is Chanu (Satish Kaushik), for whom Nazneem shows strict obedience and with whom she has two daughters.

A fateful year in Nazneemís life, some 16 years later, pulls the focus of the drama which, directed by newcomer Sarah Gavron, showcases two important changes in Nazneemís life Ė when she finds love and passion for the first time and also empowerment.

The year is 2001, also a time of change for many others, with the tragedy of 9/11 acts as a catalyst for fear and danger for Muslim immigrants in the UK.

Until this point, Nazmeen leads a loveless life of boredom and chores, a broken soul whose only escape from her isolation and despair comes in letters she received constantly from her sister Hasina (Zafreen), who has an adventurous love life and carefree existence in rural Bangladesh.

The dull routine of Nazneemís life experiences a hiccup one day when, to augment her finances after her husband battles to find a new job, she takes on sewing jobs and crosses paths with the sexy Karim (Christopher Simpson), who brings her jeans to sew for his uncleís clothing factory.

There is an instant mutual attraction and, in the weeks that follow, a tentative romance blossoms, leading to Nazneem slowly embracing change at the time her husband, who promotes traditional ways over westernisation, starts planning a return to Bangladesh.

Then the Twin Towers terror sparks further change - Karim becoming more of an activist as Nazneem discovers a growing confidence at a time when her husband starts to show himself in a new light. A deft tale of a sheltered individualís maturity and enlightenment, and development into someone of substance, Brick Lane showcases some fine performances, not least that of the pretty Chatterjee and, in a standout supporting role, Naeema Begum as her outspoken teenage daughter who senses her mother's pain. Rating 7/10 - Billy Suter




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