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
Books allow you to travel without leaving, and on the same note, movies too opens up a visual world that one can immerse into, going to places the filmmakers bring you, and experiencing and feeling the emotions that they try to evoke from you. There are few movies which leave me speechless at the end of it. Not because it's bad, but rather, on the contrary, The Namesake is a superb movie. I was in awe with so much that director Mira Nair managed to pack into its 2 hours, and the intricate layers that make up the movie.
The movie begins with Ashoke and (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) Ganguli, newlyweds and Indian immigrants to the USofA. The first third of the movie follows their struggles in their new adopted country, as they begin a new life amongst themselves in a foreign land, and starting a family there in order to provide boundless opportunities for their offspring in the land of the free. Things become more interesting and the family dynamics a joy to watch, once their kids come into play in the latter half of the movie, centered only their firstborn son Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn).
It's a look into family ties, the clash of cultures and values, especially with their Americanized children's western thinking versus their parents more traditional, conservative views. It's not all bickering if you'd come to expect, but rather, a very meditated story, full of understanding and tolerance, and the realization of change, as epitomized by dad Ashoke. Watching this movie, despite the racial / cultural differences, still made me think a lot about my own state of family affairs, as the story touches on universal themes - family love, parents, the constant desire to be living life in the way you want, and one point that stuck to me throughout, was that about Gogol's struggle with his name, something which I can most definitely identify with.
His disdain for his name Gogol (after Nicola Gogol) almost plays central to the movie. And fleshing out his character perfectly is Kal Penn. Who would've expected one half of Harold and Kumar being able to pull off such a complex role with aplomb? Here, his Gogol/Nikhil on one hand knows what he should be doing about not forgetting his culture and roots, but on the other, with his Caucasian girlfriend (played by Jacinta Barrett), he looks more comfortable in the American way of live he's so familiar with. It's the internal conflicts that we see him go up against, and how culture and myopia seem to influence his choices in the wrong ways.
The rest of the cast are brilliant too, and I'm singling out Irfan Khan and Tabu as nothing short of bringing out excellent performances. They bring forth certain tenderness in their relationship, and plenty of love for their son. You can feel their awkwardness in having to deal with a new culture head on, and yet knowing that it's for the better, for their family, for opportunities. They can do a lot with so little - a touch of the hand, a twinkle of the eye, that you can't help but be welcomed into their world.
The Namesake is filled with beautiful music, from both contemporary tracks as well as classical Indian music, as it parallels the struggles of the family straddling between two different cultures. And there are moments in the film that will even cause those with strong hearts, struggle to hold back a tear or two.
This movie brought me to India, a country I have yet to visit, Kolkatta and the fabled monument of love, the Taj Mahal. With authentic locales, excellent acting and a layered storyline, The Namesake is firmly set in shortlist of my favourite movies of this year. Hurry and watch this in the cinemas before its run is up.
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