Chris Raphael, Seven Seas Productions Ltd.
Lana Rahman, left, Naeema Begum, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Satish Kaushik in a scene from the film "Brick Lane."
BRICK LANE — ** 1/2 — Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson; with English subtitles (East Indian dialects); rated PG-13 (profanity, sex, slurs, violence, vulgarity, nude art)

Even a single misstep could have turned the British drama "Brick Lane" into one of those predictable, made for the Lifetime cable channel melodramas.

As it is, the film narrowly avoids doing it. A good, mostly fresh-faced cast certainly helps in that regard, as does a somewhat unexpected plot twist at the end.

Also, it's fortunate that the film is based on well-regarded source material, namely Monica Ali's novel about a young Bangladeshi woman who enters into an arranged marriage following the tragic death of her mother.

She's Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who has moved to England to be with Chanu Ahmed (Satish Kaushik). He's continually reminding her that she's married to "an educated man."

The couple has two daughters — Bibi (Lana Rahman) and Shahana (Naeema Begum), a strong-minded teen who reminds Nazneen a little of herself when she was that age. But she feels trapped in this loveless marital arrangement.

The couple is also just scraping by, so Nazneen has been taking on odd jobs, such as tailoring. That's how she meets Karim (Christopher Simpson), a rabble-rousing Muslim to whom she's attracted.

Director Sarah Gavron and two screenwriters sort of "stack the deck" when it comes to the characterizations.

For one thing, they portray Chanu as equal parts lout and buffoon (veteran Indian filmmaker/actor Kaushik is culpable there as well). Simpson's Karim is a bit too perfect to be believable, too.

However, relative newcomer Chatterjee is a revelation as Nazneen. It's her character's predicament that holds our interest. Even her occasional voiceover narration — which can be a distraction if handled incorrectly — is done well.

"Brick Lane" is rated PG-13 for scattered strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), a sex scene (marital indiscretion, handled fairly tastefully), derogatory slurs based on ethnicity and nationality, brief domestic violence and violent imagery (including Sept. 11 newsreel footage), some suggestive talk and other language, and glimpses of nude drawings. Running time: 101 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com