Brick Lane, the cinematic version of Monica Ali’s novel by the same title, is finally releasing in India. The film, which was released in the UK in 2007, is directed by Sarah Gavron and has Tannishtha Chatterjee and Satish Kaushik playing the lead roles. Gavron tells us over the phone about the notion of home and why being a director involves travelling to other worlds. Edited excerpts:
Why is the film releasing in India three years after its UK release?
We have been waiting to release the film in India for a really long time but couldn’t find a satisfactory distributor. Then UTV World Movies came along and things fell in place. I’m personally delighted that the film is releasing in India. It would have been great if we could release the film in Bangladesh as well but I’m told that it’s very rarely that an international film is released there.
What attracted you to Monica Ali’s novel?
It was a best-seller in the UK. The first time I read it I was on the tube in London and three other people in the carriage were reading it. Everybody loved the book here, which shows that even though it’s set in a very particular community it’s still a universal story. People related to it at different levels and so did I. I could connect to it because my grandparents were immigrants and so I’ve heard them talk about how it feels to be displaced. The mother-daughter relationship in the story also affected me.
How difficult was it to capture the nuances of the Bangladeshi community?
I had to work hard to get under the skin of the community. But the thing about being a film-maker is that you’re not alone and work with many collaborators. My assistant director, who is an East London Bangladeshi, helped a lot and so did the cast and crew, many of whom were Bangladeshis. I couldn’t have done the job without their inputs. Although I think as a director, your job is to see the world through the other’s eyes. It’s the same as Kathryn Bigelow making The Hurt Locker or Shekhar Kapur making Elizabeth. You have to travel to worlds that are outside your own experience.
Sarah Gavron, director of Brick Lane
I did an extra layer of work which was more an enjoyable experience than work per se, I went to Bangladesh. I went into people’s homes both in Bangladesh and East London. I spent many hours sitting with women and men discussing their lives and their experiences coming to London and how it felt to raise their children here. I felt that I needed to understand these experiences myself. I also sent the actors to meet them.
What was the most striking thing that came out of your interactions?
The one thing that I began to clearly understand was the notion of home. From the Western point of view, Bangladesh is a place full of floods, poverty and political problems. But for Bangladeshis everywhere their country is very beautiful and a place that has given them happy memories. I also realized that when you’re an immigrant you tend to part idealize the place of your childhood.
What about the trouble that brewed during the filming?
I had started interacting with the community a year before filming, and at every stage they were consulted. So there was a great deal of openness about the film. We knew that there were a few people who didn’t like the book and, therefore, the film. When we were three weeks into filming, a protest group was formed; it was actually just three awful people. But they got media coverage and a lot of others supported them. We didn’t change anything in the film but we avoided shooting in Brick Lane whenever we were told that there is bound to be some trouble.
Afterwards when the community saw the film they realized it was a sensibly made film. The final irony was that it won a prize at the Bangladeshi film festival in East London.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a couple of projects and one of them is about the suffragette movement.
Is there some reason why you choose women-centric themes?
Like your language is part of who you are, your gender is too. I work with stories that I can connect with; sometimes these are direct connections, sometimes, subtle. So far it has been women-centric material but if I find a male-centric story that I can relate to then I’d be happy to direct it.
Brick Lane is being released by UTV World Movies on 28 May at Metro Adlabs, Mumbai.