After her mother commits suicide (for reasons unknown), 17-year-old Nazneen (Chatterjee) is forced into an arranged marriage with Chanu (Kaushik), an older man working as a civil servant in London. Nazneen clings to memories of her idyllic village in Bangladesh as she raises two teenage daughters in a cramped apartment in a cheerless cinder block complex, while Chanu dreams of furthering his career in his adopted country until he"s passed over for promotion.
When he abruptly quits his job, Nazneen takes up sewing to pay the bills and slowly but surely falls in lust with Karim (Christopher Simpson), a younger man who delivers the cloth to her home. Then the planes slam into the Twin Towers. Karim grows a beard and adopts traditional dress in response to the bigotry directed against Muslims. Chanu undergoes a change of heart that convinces him that his family would be better back in Bangladesh. But Nazneen realizes she has become a Western woman, no longer suited to the place and life she has left behind.
Directed by first-timer Sarah Gavron with screenplay by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones (who adapted the 2003 novel by Monica Ali), the movie wants to be hard-edged and romantic, eventually settling for melodrama despite its serious subject matter of Muslim immigrants struggling against an upsurge in prejudice following September 11.
While the movie holds our interest, the characters are not fully developed enough to elicit any real attachment on our part. We know Nazneen is unhappy but when she finally flashes a smile halfway through the film, we don't empathize with her improving situation. Later, when she stands up for herself in several scenes, we feel no triumphant stirring on her behalf. When Shahana begs her mother to tell her father how she really feels about returning to Bangladesh, and flees to the London streets and subway, we don't share the young girl's desperation.
Gavron coaxes good performances from her cast and she captures the look and feel of council housing in East End London (Brick Lane famous as the portal to multicultural Britain), but her inexperience shows in the editing. It"s unclear how much time is passing as the plot unfolds and important elements in the story are handled obliquely.
On the other hand, actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is refreshing (if not always convincing) as a woman who commences an adulterous affair despite her adherence to Islam. Satish Kaushik is equally amusing as her fat and fatuous husband, a role that requires the right balance of charm and satire.
Watch it for the performances by Tannishtha and the under used in Bollywood, Satish Kaushik.
Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson and Naeema Begum
Director: Sarah Gavron