A storm of controversy has erupted in Brick Lane, the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community, over plans to film Monica Ali’s 2003 novel “Brick Lane” there. Filming is due to start in a few weeks in the famous street of curry houses, textile shops and other Bangladeshi businesses in London’s East End.
The row over the filming of “Brick Lane” is the latest example of a conflict between the freedom of expression and the sensibilities of a minority. Around 30 activists opposed to the film held a meeting last week and some have warned of possible violence.
“Brick Lane” tell of how a young woman, Nazneen, comes to England from Bangladesh to marry an older man living in the Brick Lane area, and eventually becomes involved with a young Muslim activist in the post 9/11 period.
Abdus Salique, the chairman of the Brick Lane Traders’ Association told BBC TV that he doesn’t think anyone like Nazneem exists in the community. He said Ali “has imagined that character”. Fellow businessman Mahmoud Raud, complained about the “negative portrayal of our community.”
Ali’s critics point out that she does not come from the Brick Lane community she portrays. Most Bangladeshis in Britain come from Sylhet, but Ali’s father was from Dhaka and her mother is English. Ali grew up in the north of England and went to Oxford University. Her critically acclaimed novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The film’s production company Ruby Films said: “Throughout the production process we’ve maintained constant contact with the community. When there’s a finished product to watch, we’ll be happy to open dialogue with anyone with any concerns.”
By no means all Bangladeshis are against the film. Asians in Media magazine quoted a local resident, Abdul Goffur, as saying the protest was “blown out of proportion. It’s a minority who are trying to make themselves known. But I live in Brick Lane and we’ve got a thousand guys in support of this. This film will be helpful in opening up our community and helping us progress as a community as a whole.”
International PEN, the worldwide association of writers, is so concerned about possible trouble that the deputy president of English PEN and five prominent PEN members wrote to the Guardian newspaper. They called on the police, with the full backing of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to “stand squarely behind the film, its author and the right to free imaginative expression.”
One hopes that any protests will be peaceful. If the film is a success, it could help put Brick Lane further on the map and make it a tourist attraction, just as happened in West London after the release of the film “Notting Hill”.
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette 25 July 2006