Tannishtha Chatterjee, star of Brick Lane, talks to marieclaire.co.uk
Already a star in her native country, India, Tannishtha Chatterjee, 29, hits the silver screen as the lead in the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s critically acclaimed book, Brick Lane, about a Bangladeshi girl’s struggle to adapt to married life to a stranger, in an utterly foreign world: London.
Having read the novel, were the mental images you conjured up reflected in the film?
Absolutely and it was wonderful to see all the characters come to life. My character is so contained and introvert and it was tough to relay that in cinema. In the pages of a novel you can say how someone feels and thinks. So my biggest achievement was to do the role justice.
What was it that made your character so introverted?
A lot of women were like that in the Asian community that I met and of course, through time they have changed. But this is a woman who is 17 years old when she arrives in a country where she doesn’t understand the language and has never seen a foreigner before. She has to learn to cope being married to a man 25 years older than her and she’s scared.
You spent a lot of time with Bangladeshi women who live in the UK as research for the part. Were their lives portrayed accurately on screen?
Yes, I think so. The women told me similar stories to those in the novel. When I met them, they were confident, but that’s because they’ve been in Britain for 20 years. When they arrived here at the age of 16 or 17, the things they told me were exactly like the novel. One woman told me she was scared of anyone with a different skin colour to her or any male outside of her family. Her vegetable seller used to leave her order outside each day for years because she was afraid of him. But now, years later, she invites him to have a cup of tea and a chat. That’s the journey these women have made.
Your character, Nazneen, leaves Bangladesh to travel to Britain and marry a man 25 years her senior. How do you personally feel about arranged marriage?
I don’t think I judge arranged marriages because I’ve seen wonderful arranged marriages and awful love marriages and vice versa. Sometimes in Eastern cultures you are trained so that you dream of an arranged marriage, of meeting the man you’ll marry only on your wedding day. If you grow up with that feeling, it’s not such a bad thing. You then explore your relationship after marriage and grow to fall in love – which is what happens with Nazneen and her husband Chanu. What I like about the book and film is that it doesn’t make arranged marriage a cliché. Its more complex and human than that.
How did you feel about the unrest around Brick Lane when the movie started filming?
Our producers didn’t really let the crew and cast get affected by it. But we were angry, especially when they were reacting to a film that hadn’t even been shot, I mean how ridiculous is that.
Do you see this as your big break into acting in the Western world?
I hope so! I’d like to challenge myself and explore different forms of acting and international cinema differs tremendously in its style.
Brick Lane is released on 16 November