Tannishtha could portray subtle emotions in ‘Brick Lane’: Director

June 22nd, 2008 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 22 (IANS) While casting Tannishtha Chatterjee to play Nazneen, the Bangladeshi protagonist in “Brick Lane”, British director Sarah Gavron was impressed by the Indian actor’s ability to convey subtle emotions. The film, based on Monica Ali’s novel, tells of the poignant story of a Bangladeshi village woman forced into an arranged marriage trying to find her place in far away England. Gavron zeroed in on Bollywood actor Satish Kaushik to play Nazneen’s husband.

Casting Nazneen, pining for the open fields back home amidst a block of flats in London’s East End, was obviously extremely crucial, Gavron said talking of how she chose Tannishtha.

“When we met her in Mumbai, we found her to be a very subtle person, someone who could convey so much emotion without speaking. It was kind of intelligent and instinctive communication,” Gavron told IANS.

“Physically too she looked just right and understood the Bangladeshi culture and the language,” Gavron said of Tannishtha who trained at the National School of Drama in Delhi and has already appeared in two European films in Germany and France.

“It’s a dream role for any actress - from the beginning of her journey to the end is a drastic change, but the challenge is to make her changes subtle,” said Tannishtha.

The role of her much older husband Chanu, a fat man with equally inflated ideas, was a difficult one to cast given that his character required a comic physicality but also dramatic gravitas, Gavron said.

“We were extremely fortunate to find Satish Kaushik. He knows the fine line between tragedy and comedy. He could easily get into the skin of a sympathetic, intelligent person who delivers those challenging philosophic monologues with different shades.”

“He was very good at letting go of his directorial hat,” said Gavron, when asked if comic actor Kaushik’s being a director too was helpful or proved a hindrance.

To prepare for her role, Tannishtha met a lot of Bengali women and spent time walking around the Brick Lane area, steeping herself in the Bengali-UK cross culture.

“Nazneen’s story is universal to a lot of women I spent time with,” the actress said. “They come here at a very young age, marry someone they don’t know, feel lonely and don’t speak the language. And yet, though slow, they find their voice.”

“The novel was a great help to understand the character,” Tannishtha said, as she could not relate to them directly having a much different life experience and following a different religion, though culturally one people.

“The language was something I had to work on. Though I am Indian, I speak English in a different way from the way Bengali women here speak.”

But she finally seemed to have pulled it off. For when she met some of the women after the release of the movie, they couldn’t believe that it was the same jean-clad woman who had spent time with them. “One woman came and simply hugged me with moist eyes. She didn’t say a word.”

Asked if there was any conflict with her director about how to play Nazneen, Tannishtha said what she enjoyed most in working with Gavron was that she is a “collaborative director”.

“She is not a dictator. She doesn’t tell you to walk three feet here, look right and express this. She trusts the actor, lets you do something first and then judge what she likes and what she doesn’t.”

But there were moments when they differed initially. For instance, the script has Nazneen’s daughter Shahana, resentful at the prospect of going to Bangladesh, kicking her during a family day out to Buckingham Palace.

When Tannishtha suggested that a girl from the sub-continent would never kick her mother, Gavron disagreed. But the child actor playing Shahna, who had grown up in England, would not do so on the plea that Tannishtha was older to her. “So we cut it out,” said Gavron trusting the Indian actor’s judgement.

Asked what drew her to the story, Gavron said: “I was interested in showing life in Britain through the eyes of an outsider, keen to convey a sense of the personal impact of displacement and what it means to yearn for home.”

“I had read Monica Ali’s novel and was immediately drawn to its story and themes. It was exciting. I loved it and said ‘Oh my goodness, this is challenging.’ In a way the story found me.”

On the husband, Gavron said: “He is a complex character, rather wise and sympathetic. And what’s unique about ‘Brick Lane’ is that unlike the usual Western portrayal it does not judge arranged marriages.

In fact, transported to an alien land, living in a lonely marriage, Nazneen finds herself in love with her husband after a passionate and short-lived affair with a younger man. “Chanu is not a black and white character. He is irritable and yet loveable. He is just human.”

“It is ultimately a universal story about life, love, cultural difference and the power of the human spirit. But at the heart of the film is Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman, finding her place in the world,” Gavron said.

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