In the world of journalism, a first person account of affairs is pretty much considered as blasphemous (well in most of the cases). However, after watching Brick Lane, I couldn’t resist doing so. A major reason behind doing so is the fact that the write up which is going to follow isn’t a review per se. It is the experience of watching the film as a viewer, without wearing the hat of someone who is required to critically deconstruct it.
Honestly, the first thought that came in my mind after watching a couple of scenes featuring Satish Kaushik, the leading man in Brick Lane was – ‘Is he the same person who has been immortalised as ‘Pappu Pager’? Or ‘Calendar’? Or ‘Mutthuswami’? And for those select few who may be unfamiliar with these character names, they are from the films Deewana Mastana, Mr. India and Saajan Chale Sasural respectively, three of the biggest successes of Satish Kaushik as an actor.
So why are references being brought to these films? Because each of them has been comedies and more than 90% of the characters enacted by Satish Kaushik in his 75 films and 30 years of acting experience have been comic. No wonder, it is a revelation of sorts to see him into a different zone altogether when he plays the role of a middle aged lower middle class Bangladeshi who is searching for dignity in a foreign land – UK – as seen in Brick Lane.
As someone who is semi-educated, doesn’t quite have perfect command over English despite being in the land of Queen for decades, is yet to settle down in life, isn’t quite the perfect husband for his wife (Tannishtha Chatterjee) but has his heart in the right place when it comes to taking a stand on religion, Kauhsik is (surprisingly) restrained. He carries the kind of command which one expects from a seasoned actor and though one never doubted his standing as a comic actor, a different side of his personality does make one stand up and notice.
A role like the kind seen in Brick Lane where he is selfish to the core of having sex with his wife rather than caring about making love, mildly hitting his teenage daughter in due course of an argument and having his chauvinist attitude pretty much apparent by being unhappy about her choosing to work could easily have taken a negative connotation.
In fact that has been the problem for most of the films set in the NRI world where a male protagonist is projected as someone out and out black. Remember Provoked or Videsh? Nothing wrong with a character; after all this is what a film maker may be trying to tell through a story. However, the humane side of a regular protagonist is something that has gone amiss in most of the films belonging to this genre and setting so far.
In this regard, Kaushik plays it just right. He keeps it all under control, doesn’t make his character looks beastly or ferocious and still makes the suffocation faced by Tannishtha justifiable. No wonder, when she decides to separate from him in due course of time, you feel relieved for her but in turn also quite sympathetic for Kaushik.
This is where the writing of Brick Lane and execution by Kaushik comes in handy because nothing quite goes overboard here. Staying on course is not restricted just to the dramatic scenes but also the light moments that are interspersed into the narrative. And by the way, this doesn’t happen through humour where actors get into a ‘ha-ha-hee-hee’ mode. Instead, all of this comes through the character detailing, mainly because of Kaushik who is shown to be living in his own world.
No wonder, one fine day he thinks of switching over jobs and becoming a cabby, the next day he proudly proclaims that ‘soaps are the future’ and thinks of starting a business on the same lines, on another day he feels that being a professor is much in demand while on a particular instance, he buys himself a computer because ‘this is where the world of knowledge lies’. Frankly, I have seen such characters in real life and hence it was quite easy to identify with someone like Kaushik who keeps juggling between different professions while having a self belief that his dignity would be restored in due course of time.
Will the screen name of Chanu Ahmed turn out to be as memorable as ‘Pappu Pager’, ‘Calendar’ or ‘Mutthuswami’? I strongly suspect that would ever be the case. After all each of these characters has belonged to mainstream films and has been immortalised over decades. On the other hand Chanu is someone who features in an offbeat film like Brick Lane which hasn’t even found a proper release in India despite international acclaim.
Though there would be hardly any people who may catch this truly different act of Kaushik, in his mind and heart he would indeed be happy enough to have attempted something new and done immense justice to it.