WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In the late 1980s, a young Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen (Chatterjee) is sent to London to marry a much older businessman, Chanu (Satish Kaushik). They settle in a poky flat in Bethnal Green, where they bring up their two young daughters.
By the early noughties, Nazneen is still feeling desperately homesick and she hasn’t grown any more comfortable in this arranged marriage. The kindly Chanu can see that she is unhappy and agrees at least to consider returning the family to Bangladesh. But British born-and-bred, the girls have no interest in moving.
While Chanu struggles to find a new job, Nazneen uses her seamstress skills to bring some money into the household. Before long, she finds herself falling passionately in love with a young man she does business with, Karim (Christopher Simpson). For the first time since her arrival in the UK, she feels happy, and the unsuspecting Chanu can’t work out why she’s suddenly lost the taste for returning to Bangladesh, now that he’s finally decided it’s the right thing to do.
Nazneen’s newfound happiness is destroyed on the fateful day of September the 11th 2001. When two planes fly into the World Trade Center twin towers in Manhattan, many of the younger members of London’s Bangladeshi community become radicalised muslims, fighting for their faith against the Islamophobia that ensues.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Much of Sarah Gavron’s picturesque feature directorial debut feels very familiar – immigrant communities struggling to fit in, forbidden love, muslims being radicalised by 9/11 – and much of it feels very claustrophobic, taking place mainly in a poky Brick Lane flat and the bustling neighbouring streets.
The contrast between these and the early romantic, colourful and spacious scenes in Bangladesh are striking. The imagery in general is impressive – Gavron knows where to put her camera and how to move it so that at every point, the reflections and shadows of characters are every bit as important to the set up of each scene as the characters themselves.
As a fish-out-of-water drama, the film was refreshing. The tragic love affair was initially moving. But when the film took a political turn, it became a different beast altogether – a considerably less original and confusing one.
Although never losing the core theme of Nazneen’s happiness, or otherwise, there’s too much going on for a small film which doesn’t have as much ambition as it thinks it does.
It’s not much more than an hour-and-a-half soap opera episode, with a higher class of cinematography.
Perhaps the highlights of the film are the two key performances – Chatterjee and Kaushik – her repressed emotions and his convincing blend of chauvinism, warmth, maturity and honour.