The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hollywood footfall on Monica’s Lane
- Role aspirant Lisa Ray feels ‘if material is fine, colour is not a problem’

London, Sept. 21: Hollywood is desperately keen to buy the rights to Brick Lane, Monica Ali’s sensationally successful debut novel which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it was reported today.

Unlike Arundhati Roy, who has been steadfast in her belief that filming The God of Small Things would somehow undermine the literary standing of her Booker Prize-winning novel, Ali has had no such qualms.

Ali is currently touring the US to promote Brick Lane, the tale of an 18-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Nazneen, who comes from a village to a run-down council housing estate in London’s East End to begin married life with a man twice her age.

Although, on the face of it, this hardly seems suitable Hollywood material, things are changing in Los Angeles, according to actress Lisa Ray, who was born in Canada of Bengali-Polish parents, worked in Bollywood, visits Hollywood frequently but chooses to live in London. “Hollywood is very colour blind,” Ray told The Telegraph. “If the material is good, they don’t mind. Having just come back from Los Angeles, I can say this is capitalism at its best. It’s the law of the jungle: if the material is fine, colour is not a problem.”

Referring to changing social trends in America, Ray, herself a former model, said: “What we are seeing in the American media is a willingness to reflect racial diversity. This is partly because the Indian community is so strong. In TV and film, this diversity has not been reflected as much as it is in the UK.”

There is, of course, a big difference between Hollywood buying the rights to a book and eventually turning it into a film.

Ray explained: “Hollywood works on economics. We have had memorable hits like Bend It Like Beckham and Monsoon Wedding. It’s encouraging that Indians are sitting up and being counted. The Americans are also welcoming greater cultural diversity and cross-cultural issues and acknowledging them.”

She added: “Hollywood is always hungry for good material. They will not pick up a book simply because it is dealing with an issue. It must have the potential to be made into a script. In LA, they are not following fads. The material has to be very, very good.”

She personally would be keen to act in such a film. “It expresses what I stand for, a fusion of cultures,” said Ray.

Although Ali was born in Dhaka of a Bangladeshi father and an English mother, she has lived most of her life in Britain. Ironically, the Bangladeshi high commission in London refused to grant her a visa to allow her to make a sentimental journey back to the land of her birth on the grounds that she is a “writer”.

Hollywood’s interest in Ali has been confirmed to the Observer newspaper by the author’s New York-based agent, Nicole Aragi, who said: “Monica was on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, and when that happens to a writer people connected with Hollywood are on the phone. We’ve had lots of general queries about movies. It’s something one hopes will come about with a really intelligent director involved.”

Steven Gaydos, the executive editor of Variety, told the paper that Ali had almost certainly been “tracked” by Hollywood for months.

“Knowing about new talent first is one of the most important activities in Hollywood, whether that’s directing, acting or novel-writing talent,” he said. “Hollywood executives know everything that’s going on in London, and they normally know about it at the time of the original deal. If a London publisher signed a deal with a writer today and the story they were writing sounded like great movie material, that information would be in Hollywood’s hands before the ink was dry.”

Ali is often called “the new Zadie Smith”, whose novel, White Teeth, about multi-cultural London life has been dramatised for British TV with a cast that included Om Puri and the British Asian actress Archie Panjabi.

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