Excerpts From A Roundtable Interview
With Sarah Gavron and Tannishtha Chatterjee
Director and Star of “
Outlook: Can I begin with something I enjoyed about the movie?
SG: Feel free.
Outlook: I liked at the end, when she was talking about how the relationship with her husband was like an oyster building a pearl.
SG & TC: Yes.
Outlook: As someone who is married, I thought that was a wonderful metaphor of learning to appreciate someone slowly, over a period of time, like that pearl being formed, until it becomes something quite unique and valuable. I liked the point of view that her appreciation for her husband Chanu developed and grew over time, even though things started out rough. And then, at the end, when he’s standing outside their teenage daughter’s door, frustrated and angry, but with tears of hurt and pain in his eyes, his wife looks at him with compassion, which I thought was a great piece of non-verbal acting, by the way.
TC: Thanks very much. Yes, it seemed to me that the character of Nazneem was someone who very much kept her emotions inside of her, and so the challenge was to convey all that deep feeling, without using the words. Her world was so internalized, I had to try to use my eyes.
Outlook: As I’ve thought about her since then, it seemed to me that the story almost wanted to say that having the affair was helpful to her, in the sense that it was the precipitant for her to actually take control of her life.
SG: I thought the affair with Karim was just the catalyst. He came along, he opened her eyes to the world around her, she stopped living in the dream world. She had a sort of sexual awakening, and then she took control of her life. Her life changed.
Outlook: Could you be sort of cynical about that, and say that she had a sexual awakening, and realized that it wasn’t as big a deal as she imagined it was supposed to be?
SG: (laughs) Well, that would be up to individual interpretation. To me, it wasn’t so much about the sexual awakening as about just the awakening, and rising to her daughter’s challenge. Karim is characterizing her as “the girl from the village,” and she knows that she’s become much more than that.
Outlook: She’s really, in his mind, some sort of ideal.
SG: Exactly. A kind of archetype.
TC: In many ways, her relationship with Karim is the teenage infatuation she never had. Because she got married at 17, and the only man she ever knew was her husband. And the only other man she knew after that was Karim, but it could have been anyone. It was a catalyst in many ways.
SG: It was not only about her encounter with her desire for Karim, but with desire itself, and how that changed her perspective on the world.
Outlook: The relationship with the sister was interesting, in some ways parallel, idealized in her mind for so long.
Outlook: And then when those letters started coming toward the end, she had to face who her sister really was.
SG: Yes, and at the same time realize that her husband was not the didactic buffoon she thought he was, but someone wise and compassionate. That was one of the reasons this story worked for me, and translated across cultures. She finds out that love is complex. As we all do.
Outlook: And that powerful scene of her chasing after her daughter, a love refusing to let go….
SG: Yes, it was important to her to not give up, as her mother had, and allow herself to be overwhelmed. She decided she had to be there for her daughters, because that’s who she wanted to be.
Outlook: And then, after her husband had spoken up at the radical Muslim meeting and been rebuked by the younger men, he walks out and she goes with him and quietly takes his hand on the way home, very powerful nonverbal scene…
TC: Yes, she finds a way to convey how deeply she feels, but without saying the words.
Outlook: How did you approach the religious issue, the Muslim perspective, for instance when she was praying, forehead to the floor?
SG: Very much with the help of my Associate Director, who was Bangladeshi and Muslim, as well as much of the crew, to help authenticate that. What was important was to show it not so much as an issue in a broader sense, but how it affected these particular individuals. But of course what’s happening among many Muslims today is seeing their religion not only as personal observance, but as their participation in something very global.
Outlook: It was interesting to see how the 9/11 event changed not only the perspective of the Muslim community in London, but also other peoples’ perceptions of them, and how that may have changed them.
SG: It was
Outlook: Thank you for your time.
SG & TC: Thank you.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church,