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While traveling by train to visit his grandfather in Jamshedpur, Calcutta born, Bengali-speaking Ashoke Ganguli meets with fellow-traveler, Ghosh, who impresses upon him to travel, while Ashoke is deep into a book authored by Nicholai Gogol. The train meets with an accident, and after recuperating, Ashoke re-locates to America, settles down, returns home in 1977 to get married to aspiring singer, Ashima, and returns home to New York. Shortly thereafter they become parents of a boy, who they initially name Gogol, and a few years later both give birth to Sonia. The family then buy their own house in the suburbs and travel to India for the first time after their marriage. The second time they travel to India is when Gogol and Sonia are in their late teens, and after a memorable visit to Kolkata and then to the Taj Mahal, they return home. Gogol falls in love with Maxine Ratliff and moves in with her family, while Ashoke spends time traveling, and Sonia moves to California, leaving Ashima... Written by
Just got home from the Sept 11, 2006 official world premiere screening of The Namesake at the Elgin Theatre at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.
Director Mira Nair briefly introduced the film by saying that it was her most personal project as she herself lived in Kolkata for 12 years and then in New York City for 25 (the 2 cities that the characters in the film travel between as well). She dedicated the film to the legendary directors Ritwick Ghatak and Satyajit Ray. She introduced the actress Tabu who said a few words about how grateful she was to work on the project, especially as it helped her to understand her own mother better. Director Karan Johar and actor Amitabh Bachchan (who is not in this film, but a guest at the screening) also happened to be in attendance in the audience and were introduced to warm applause.
I better admit right off the bat that I went to see the film based simply on how much I've enjoyed Mira Nair's films in the past. I did not know the work of the veteran Indian actors or the work of the younger American based cast. I was aware that Kal Penn has acted in several teenage and/or stoner comedies but I've never actually seen those films so have no preconceptions about his work. And I've only seen maybe a dozen Bollywood films in my life, just enough to know that the scenes of kissing in The Namesake would not be acceptable to a traditional crowd. Also, I have not read the book that the film is based on, although having enjoyed the film as much as I did, I definitely intend to read it as soon as possible (in fact we picked up 2 copies on the way home).
OK, so after getting all of that out the way, maybe some will take my views with a grain of salt as they might feel that I am not qualified to comment, but I found this to be an all round entertaining and enjoyable film that made your heart ache for the different characters at various times and that hit all the right notes along the way. The casting seemed all-round perfect and everyone was completely believable in their roles. Kal Penn was absolutely solid in his part and grew from a young surly teenager to a confused young man to a mature adult. In the role of the parents both Tabu and Irfan Khan were thoroughly believable as a young arranged marriage couple in Kolkata who moved to America to build a new life and who aged together gracefully with lifes ups and down on the way. Tabu carried more of the weight here and was just gorgeous as a young bride and grew into a mother with many cares but who held herself with dignity throughout. Her acting even just with her eyes was just wonderful to watch. All of the technical aspects, the cinematography, costuming, locations, set decoration, and soundtrack etc. were equally impressive. The theme of family and the search for one's self are universal and are all well communicated in this film. The sense in the room of the theatre was that everyone was identifying with the film throughout (the audience was maybe 15-20% of South Asian heritage - with the rest a mixed Canadian Toronto and film festival crowd) and the occasional jokes and visual gags all went over to great enthusiastic laughter.
I encourage everyone to see it when it opens in general release. So far only this and Babel and Paris Je T'aime have earned a 10/10 from me at this year's TIFF.
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