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Namesake - NRI’s missing links review by Sai Brahmanandam Gorti

March 23, 2007


Any time when a novel is brought to the celluloid, the painting task on the silver screen is really challenging, not only for the director, but for the viewers too. It is hard to skip the comparisons of reading a novel and watching the same on the screen. The tallest question comes to mind is whether the director really understood the novel and the characters well enough to portray on the celluloid or not.

If the director is successful in translating the words in the novel into a colorful picture and if the connections are made properly, then the feel of the audience would be over-whelming. This is what exactly the feel of a touch anyone gets after watching Jhumpa Lahari's prize-winning novel "The Namesake" portrayed by well-known director Mira Nair.

The director showed her brilliance in translating a 30 year life of NRIs into 2 hour breath-taking drama taking utmost care starting from writing the screen-play to the selection of roles for each character. When everything falls in place, it would be the spectator's delight to watch the movie.

Many reviews were all ready written, this might be a feeling of an NRI who can relate each and every moment in the movie to his experiences easily, I would say.

The screen-play adaptation of the novel "The Namesake" by Sooni Taraporevala, is just stupendous and worth mentioning first, of course the credit goes to the director too. It is really a difficult and challenging task to show the 30 years of life of a family, spanning culturally two different countries, by choosing the right and important moments of the characters from the novel. The dialogues should be meaningful too! Once this gigantic task is done, the rest would be a piece of cake for a veteran director like Mira Nair.

Many directors make mistakes while casting the characters for certain roles when the characters age-out in the film for a time-period movie. But I can say Mira Nair was clever enough in picking up the characters that leave the nostalgic impressions with their acting. All the main actors, Tabu, Irrfan Khan and Kal Penn take the movie to the new heights with their brilliant performances. Also, worth mentioning in the film is the mesmerizing background score, mixed with Western and Hindustani classical music, by British composer Nitin Sawhney.

The story starts back to 1971, when a young Bengali,Ashoke Ganguli ( Irrfan Khan ), from Calcutta taking a train journey with his uncle who inspires him to see the world. Later they met with a train accident where the uncle leaves the world, but Ashoke survives to take a new journey into life by going abroad to US.

After settling in US, Ashoke Ganguli, comes to India to marry a local girl Ashima ( Tabu ).

They get married as per their parent's wishes and migrate to the US leaving their parents. As the new adjustment slowly digests into her life, Ashima gives birth a son ( Kal Pan). Ashoke names his son Gogol Ganguli after his favourite author Nikolai Gogol as per the hospital procedures, assuming the name can be changed later.

Now the kid grows and starts hating his name Gogol as his American friends make fun at him during lessons on Russian Literature, where the author of the masterpiece novel "The Overcoat" was described as an eccentric, but brilliant, which eventually ends his life starving. He changes his name to Nikhil and prefers to be called with that name. He gets annoyed why his father Ashoke picked up the name Gogol for him and in fact asks him the same. Ashoke reveals about the train accident that changed his life with one heart breaking dialogue "You remind me of everything that followed. Everyday since it has been a gift."

Gogol grows up and tries to get into the rhythm of American Culture. In fact he dates with an American girl giving an impression as an American leaving behind his Indian identity. Later Gogol realizes the misconception he had about the origin of his name and understands the profound explanation of his name after his father leaves the world. Then the film smoothly transform into the complexity of cross-cultural life of American Born Confused Desis ( ABCDs), especially the bonding with their cultural homeland. At the end, the film beautifully deals with the state of mind of the NRIs who try to adjust to a new cultural life without disconnecting their cultural roots. The film also deals with the emotional aspects of the parents as well as their kids trying to adapt and find a proper explanation to their cross-cultural aspects of their life.

Mira nair did a splendid job of painting the characters on the screen with beautiful sets and locations, mixture of different accents, rich Indian/American costumes for the characters filled with authentic dialogues coming straight from the heart.

Irfan Khan has given an effortless super performance as Ashoke with his Bengali Accent and Tabu, as Ashima, stole the show with her brilliant acting, especially worth mentioning is the concluding scene of her farewell speech to her American friends. No other actress would have done enough justice than Tabu for this role. Her acting is just award winning performance.

Kal Pen, as Gogol, matched up with Irfan and Tabu equally well with his mature acting. In some scenes, he just reminds you of an ABCD boy with his simple mannerisms and looks. It is just sheer delight to watch all the actors breathing their characters smoothly. There is no doubt all these three actors took the film to the new heights, of course, along with Mira Nair. Other actors/actresses in the film did their job as their roles demand, without any notable performances.

Some of the notable scenes worth mentioning in the film are:

1) The portrayal of loneliness when Ashima tries to digest her husband's demise and wants to share her pain when no one is available. The emotional display of the scene makes you cry.

2) Gogol realizing the importance of his name at his father's funeral proceedings.

3) The farewell speech of Ashima to her American friends and Indian families. This scene touches you deeply.

Many NRIs, feeling inferior to their Indian names, would prefer to change or make them short to pronounce easily by others. This movie certainly brings up a question in their mind to make them think twice before they really do.

I would recommend to every NRI to watch this film with their families to relate their experiences and feelings. There are a couple of unwanted nude scenes in the film which may not be appreciated from the Indian audiences. Other than this small glitch the film would be worth keeping in the DVD library of the NRIs.

It would really be difficult for anyone to judge which one is the best, the novel or the movie. I will go with both.

Also read another review on Namesake by Prasad

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