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Monica Ali's Brick Lane film hit by protests
18th July, 2006

The film adaptation of Monica Ali's book Brick Lane has run into trouble from a campaign to halt the production by local Bangladeshi residents.

An impromptu community action group in Tower Hamlets has been launched by Abdus Salique, chair of the Brick Lane Traders' Association, to halt the film for what he called was a "despicable insult".

He has threatened the the company, Ruby Films, with protests and blockades, hinting there may be violence if the filming continued to take place. However other Bengali residents from the area told AIM magazine today the controversy was being blown out of proportion by "a minority".

Abdus Salique is quoted in the Guardian today, warning that "nobody can come with a camera and make a film about that book here", adding that Monica Ali was "not one of us" and had "insulted us".

After a series of meetings over the weekend, the newspaper reports today that some local residents are vowing to do "anything it takes" to stop the filming.

A petition is calling for "all right-thinking people to join ... in preventing this attack on good social, ethical standard and idea [sic]."

Mr Salique hinted at a potential outbreak of violence. "Young people are getting very involved with this campaign. We had more than 100 people attend yesterday's meeting. They are willing to blockade the area and guard our streets."

"Of course, they will not do anything unless we tell them to, but I warn you they are not as peaceful as me. She [Ali] has imagined ideas about us in her head. She is not one of us, she has not lived with us, she knows nothing about us, but she has insulted us," he told the newspaper.

But the outlandish claims were challenged by a Bengali media executive from East London, telling AIM magazine on condition of anonymity that it was all taking place in a sweet shop that could barely hold 20 people.

"Half of them [protesting] haven't even read the bloody book! They've just heard a few pieces about racial inter-mixing and what not, and now they're throwing up a fuss. Brick Lane is a big area and it's very political. There lots of different people with different attitudes and voices."

Another local resident, Abdul Goffur, told AIM magazine that the protest was "blown out of proportion".

"It's a minority and they're trying to make themselves known," he said. "But I live in Brick Lane and we've got a thousand guys who are in support of this. This film will be helpful in opening up our community and helping us progress as a community as a whole."

"It's freedom of speech at the end of the day. They're not going to go anywhere," he added.

Claudia Kalindjian from Ruby Films said the company was aware of the controversy. "There are a small number of people in the community who are unhappy that the film is being made."

"The filmmakers read the book and thought it had a very interesting story to tell," she said. "They certainly would not have embarked on a project which they thought was in any was racist."

Most Bengali residents contacted by AIM magazine said local response to the casting auditions had been hugely positive and hundreds of aspiring actors lined up to be in the film.

The producers are currently filming at 3 Mills studios in East London and are expected to stay there until the controversy dies down. Much of the cast for the film is new. Veteran actor Satish Kaushik has been confirmed for one of the main lead roles.

Brick Lane is a fictional story about Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman who is sent to London for an arranged marriage but later cheats on her husband with a younger Muslim man.

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets council said that they "take the concerns of local residents seriously when giving permission to use the borough [for filming], and would be happy to listen to any concerns about this particular film."

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