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
I saw "The Namesake" at the 22nd October screening at the London Film Festival. Mira Nair introduced the film, along with Nitin Sawhney, who wrote the score.
I admit that I loved the book, and therefore have been looking forward to this film for a while. As a second generation Bengali Brit who was born in India and went to university in the US, I know something about what it means to feel displaced, to be a stranger in a strange land, though I have never felt like an immigrant. I also have the Bengali dilemma of having two names. So the book has a lot of resonance for me.
Fortunately the film does full justice to Jhumpa Lahiri's novel. Cramming a story spanning three decades into two hours without making it feel rushed or contrived takes some doing, and Mira Nair paces it beautifully. The cinematography, the editing (juxtaposing Calcutta and New York), and even the colours of the opening credits are all spot on.
The cast are by and large, superb. Kal Penn does really well as the central character, Gogol. Anyone who has seen him in Harold & Kumar and Van Wilder: Party Liaison may have had reservations about a comic actor (albeit talented) playing this part, but he portrays the character as a confused, vulnerable, and multi-layered young man who ultimately learns to become comfortable in his own skin.
But perhaps the main reason why this story appeals to me to so much is the similarity between the experiences of his parents Ashok and Ashima and what I imagine it must have been like for my own parents when they came to England. Both Irfan Khan and Tabu are excellent. They bring a mix of loneliness, hope and pathos to their roles, people who cannot let go of their past but are prepared to sacrifice everything for their future. Their innate ordinariness is what makes their characters so sympathetic and believable.
Much like Monsoon Wedding, this is a visual and lyrical film. It is an essay on home, and on going home, not the physical place, but the state of mind.
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