In this haunting drama based off the novel by Monica Ali, we encounter Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a woman whose life has always been shaped by her circumstances rather than her desires. At 17, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) has an arranged marriage to Chanu Ahmed (Satish Kaushik), a man twice her age, and leaves behind her home in rural Bangladesh, her father and younger sister, and goes to London with her new husband. The two move to Brick Lane, amid a large Bangladeshi community, and spend the next years of married life raising their two daughters.
Nazneen has a great respect for her husband, but doesn’t love him, and thus lives vicariously through the letters her sister sends her. She envies her sister’s independent and seemingly carefree life, so different than hers as a stay-at-home wife and mother.
When her husband is laid off and the family starts struggling to make ends meet, Chanu takes a job driving a cab, and Nazneen takes some excess work from the local garment factory, sewing clothing in the family home. Chanu hates the fact that she has to work at all, and his feelings of failure as a provider slowly eat away at him.
Seeing his daughters grow to be more and more westernized is also a point of contention for Chanu. The fact that his teen daughters care more about British boy bands and name brands than their Bangladeshi heritage, makes him feel more and more distant from his family. As his daughters grow to resent his references to a home that they do not know, Chanu begins to feel like a stranger in his own home.
Meanwhile, Nazneen is growing closer to a handsome younger co-worker, Karim (Christopher Simpson). He picks up and drops off garments to her flat, and the two soon begin an affair. For the first time, Nazneen knows passion of her own, and understands the passionate emotions in her sister’s letters.
As Nazneen and Chanu’s marriage experiences a radical shift, something shifts in her as well. For the first time, Nazneen appreciates her husband’s academic background, and absorbs what he has to teach her. Her husband of convenience becomes someone whom she admires.
When the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. occur, and their community become the victims of Britain’s increased Islamophobia, Nazneen is faced with a choice: to return with Chanu to a home she hasn’t seen in 16 years and be the wife of a man whom she has come to admire, or stay in a country which sees her as an enemy for the sake of children who want to make a future there.
We watch as Nazneen’s children struggle with dual identity, Karim with increased religious fanaticism in response to Islamic persecution, Chanu with a years-long culture shock that never fully went away, and Nazneen herself with what she wants versus what is expected of her. A beautifully unfolding, unconventional slice-of-life film, Brick Lane presents audiences a different sort of family, a different sort of marriage, and the universal need to find acceptance and love.
I give this one 4.25 stars.