After Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) marries Ashima Ganguli (Tabu) in an arranged marriage, the newly weds move from Calcutta to New York hoping to make a new life for themselves while retaining their identity. It is a difficult time, especially for Ashima, who misses her family and the Indian culture, but very soon she gives birth to a son. They are pressured to name him quickly, and call him Gogol, after the famous Russian author, who has special significance to Ashoke. As Gogol (Kal Penn) grows up, he wants to blend in with his New York peers and rebels against his Indian upbringing. He changes his name and dates a rich American girl (Jacinda Barrett) after studying architecture at Yale. But circumstances cause Gogol to reassess his cultural heritage and re-evaluate his future.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is with profound sensitivity and visual flair that Mira Nair makes this story about belonging, resonate with truth. The clash of cultures is simply the beginning of a journey that is as emotionally dense as it is colourful. Adapted from the Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, Nair is at her best as she allows us to view life, love and death through an Indian prism before being catapulted to one fashioned in New York. Superb performances from Kal Penn in his first dramatic role and Bollywood stars Tabu and Irrfan Khan, who all bring depth and understanding to the complexity of issues encountered.
Unlike the novel which begins with the birth of Gogol, the film tells its story in linear fashion, concentrating firstly on the relationship between Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) when they shyly meet for their arranged marriage. From the relentless heat and chaotic clutter of Calcutta to the icy chill of a stark New York apartment, life is lonely and difficult for the newly-weds, who promise to 'embrace the new, while never forgetting the old'. When their son is born, the traditional pet name sticks, until the adult Gogol (Kal Penn) opts to change his name to Nick, in a bid to shun his roots and blend in with the crowd. 'Have fun, but marry a Bengali,' his parents joke to their all-American son who likes rock 'n roll and his wealthy blonde girlfriend (Jacinta Barrett); 'Doesn't everyone like truffles?' His relationship with Bengali French American sexpot Moushumi Mazumdar (Zuleikha Robinson), develops as an interesting twist, while Gogol's name becomes a metaphor for the culture he has abandoned.
The emotions, like Ashima's response the moment she hears of her father's death, are painfully real as is Gogol's coming of age, when he learns the meaning of regret and understands what he never understood before. From tears to elation, The Namesake delivers it all throughout the effective juxtaposition of contrasting imagery. There are orange marigold garlands tossed into the Ganges and golden leaves of autumn that whisper a new wisdom. Books may allow you to travel without moving an inch, but the message to 'see the world; you will never regret it' resonates strongly in the search for identity.
Email this article
NAMESAKE, THE (M)
CAST: Kal Penn, Tabu, Irfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson, Glenne Headley
PRODUCER: Mira Nair, Lydia Dean Pilcher
DIRECTOR: Mira Nair (novel by Jhumpa Lahiri)
SCRIPT: Sooni Taraporevela
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes
EDITOR: Allyson Johnson
MUSIC: Nitin Sawhney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephanie Carroll
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 5, 2007