Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Namesake

A friend suggested we see The Namesake, but I hesitated. After all, I had seen Mira Nair’s last project, Vanity Fair, and was severely disappointed. But the friend won out, as well as my curiosity about whether Kal Penn can turn it around from his disastrous last movie.

The Namesake concerns the American-born son of Indian immigrants who wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers despite his family’s unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.

We’re not quite sure, though, what the focus of the movie is when we begin. We’re immediately thrust into an evocative scene of Ashoke (played by Irfan Khan), who has come with his parents to bid for a wife, the beautiful Ashima (played by Tabu). She’s not sure what she’s getting herself into, but she has a slight fascination with his shoes, which have been left by the door. It’s a really revealing scene, and it makes us like Ashima immediately.

The two wed in Calcutta, and leave immediately for New York, where Ashoke has a job waiting. The film neatly tells us how lost Ashima is when Ashoke leaves her every day, as she's a stranger in a strange land. It’s no wonder that they find other Bengali, as they call themselves, to lessen the loneliness of the strangeness of language and custom.

The film cuts to a later period where son and daughter are teenagers. The insolence is written on the kids' faces. A riveting storyline is built around why the son was named “Gogol,” and the topic keeps surfacing. You can imagine his anger at having to face the questions and jokes from his schoolmates, so we learn a lot about Gogol by these scenes.

The film cuts again to a Gogol as a young man in his 20’s, putting together the duality of his life – one with his girlfriend’s family and friends, and the other with his family. And never the twain shall meet. The rest of the story is about how Gogol deals with these two worlds, and the decisions he makes concerning them.

This film is obviously a much more personal film for Ms. Nair. Even though the screenplay is based on a novel, it’s obvious that she found much to relate to, having spent the first part of her life in Calcutta and the last in New York. She hits all the right notes in this family drama.

There are some brilliant scenes, ones that lift the movie out of the ordinary. There’s a scene where Gogol reveals his attraction to a young woman he’s dating by staring at her neck, and it’s really quite charming. The acting is superb, particularly as we watch father and mother age. I was really quite taken with the actress Tabu, as we watch the young bride with her struggles grow into a caring mother and wife. And Kal Penn finally shows us what he can be.

The theme of family vs. the search for our individuality is universal and wonderfully handled in this film. Thumb’s up.


At 6:51 PM, Blogger catattack said...

From DK:
Loved your review. I heard an interview with the director on the way home
today. She said she went thru the same things that the parents did in her
movie. However she lives with both her 15 yr old son and her parents - so three
generations - and she loves it.


Post a Comment

<< Home