What Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) thinks of as home is the rural Bangladesh village that lives in her memory as eternally verdant and vibrantly alive. She thinks of running through the tall grass with her beloved sister Hasina, their exuberance and enthusiasm inoculating them from the fatalistic viewpoint of their distraught mother: that the test of life is to endure. The freedom Nazneen feels comes to an abrupt end at 17, with an arranged marriage to an older, "educated" man in England.
Now 33, she's spent half her life in a densely populated Asian enclave in East London, and has two daughters of her own. But every time she receives a letter from Hasina that details her latest romantic pursuit, Nazneen is transported back to a time when life still offered promise. Her fatuous husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik) indulges these reveries, considering them harmless as long as they don't interfere with the subservience and unwavering devotion he expects of their traditional marriage.
Nazneen's perspective is what sets Brick Lane apart from other films that detail the trials and tribulations faced by immigrants who come to Great Britain from its former colonies (such as My Beautiful Laundrette and Bend It Like Beckham). Adapted from Monica Ali's novel by screenwriters Abi Morgan and Laura Jones, and directed by Sarah Gavron, Brick Lane is decidedly a women's film, one that seeks to illuminate the inner life of someone whose role is to be ever-present yet invisible.
A proper woman who wears beautifully wrapped saris and meticulously maintains the family flat in a drab housing complex, Nazneen considers herself a good wife and mother, and a devout Muslim. That's when she thinks of herself at all. Brick Lane follows a year of radical change that comes in increments, a transformation prompted in large part by Nazneen's affair with the charismatic Karim (Christopher Simpson), who possesses all the boldness and worldliness the pompous Chanu never achieved.
There are external factors that alter the way Nazneen views her place in the world (the backlash after 9/11 radicalizes Karim, who previously thought of himself as an assimilated Brit), but the real shift comes when perception comes into line with reality. After clinging for so long to a dream of home that's illusory, Nazneen can see herself and her family in the light of new possibilities, and goes from hiding in the wings to finally taking her place center stage.
At the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.