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|Index||121 reviews in total|
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.
This film is everything a good movie is supposed to be: diverting and
credible. You are left in no doubt as to the integrity of the
characters in their respective roles. The movie commences with Ashima,
a young girl in India (played by intoxicating Tabu), introduced to a
prospective husband, Ashoke. She decides she likes him because before
entering the room to see him for the first time she sees his Western
wingtiped shoes outside the door and decides he must be an interesting
person. He is further endeared to her (and us) when she is asked to
recite a beloved sample of English verse and he smiles at her composure
and suppressed perturbation when interrupted by his pedantic father.
She is married to this engineer and taken to the U.S. to live in New
York, and slowly begins to adapt. The movie follows her for 25 years as
she sees her two children become Americans and face their own (and in
the case of one, very poignant) issues.
Loneliness, joy, tribe, custom, and life's relentless call for adaptation are major themes, and they unfold beautifully. Perhaps its most understated point is that none of the good would have come to pass but for the success of the arranged marriage between Ashoke and Ashima, i.e., that this wonderful young woman had the good fortune to link up with the kind and loving Ashoke. It is the success of the parents' marriage that makes everything possible. As a Westerner unfamiliar with the concept of arranged unions I shivered at the thought of what could have happened if Ashoke had not been such a decent man and loving husband and father.
This is a wonderful film.
We arrived early for the movie. The city of Stamford in Connecticut
boasts a big Indian population, due partly to the presence of many
large firms. It's proximity to NYC makes Stamford a fitting place for
immigrant settlements. Surprisingly, contrary to expectations,
Americans at the Namesake showing far outnumbered their Indian
counterparts. I could not help observing the sombre look on the faces
of the visitors as they left, and I convinced myself that this wasn't
another ABCD-flick as some reviewers had complained. I grew up in
Calcutta, and such movies, although rare, is a chance to revisit a
treasured past, a temptation I couldn't resist.
The movie, to some extent portrays an almost autobiographical recollection of Jhumpa Lahiri's experiences as an young adult growing up in Philly. She was born "Nilanjana" (as her good name), but due to a chain of events, her 'pet name', Jhumpa persisted, being both terse and less cryptic than her more Indian-ised first name. Nikhil (or Nick), played wonderfully by Kal Penn, faces a similar dilemma. Named Gogol, by his father in memory of the Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, Nikhil finds himself estranged by his unusual non-American name in the midst of the American culture. He tries, in vain to convince his parents that he should change his name from Gogol to Nikhil. Gogol's father, played by Irfhan Khan, genuinely believes that there could be a name no more fitting for his son. The name carries a strong emotional value for him, which, understandably the Americanised Gogol cannot relate to.
The story outlines the stark differences between Indians raised in the States trying to embrace parental Indian values whilst also seeking inclusion in the American way of living. As such, this leads to a hybrid of Indian vs American ways of living, oftentimes leaving young adults direction-less in times when their Indian-ness is challenged. The movie is extremely realistic and offers no bollywood style twists or long drawn Hindi pop songs. Instead what you get is raw emotion, real struggles and a frightfully original storyline.
Irfhan Khan, plays a moving role as a parent trying to come to terms with his son's Western outlook. Alas, he's not able to inculcate his ideals into Gogol, and the phrase "In this country, you can do what you like" is oft repeated to pardon Nick's un-Indian disposition. Gogol's mother, Ashima, played again stirringly by Tabu, is the story of a mother adopting to an American lifestyle in Queens with her husband. Although, Tabu is a well known Bollywood star, her acting in this movie bears little semblance to Bollywood-ish pretension.
She is very real in her role of a mother trying to make ends meet, to accept her son's boycott of Indian customs, and his independent lifestyle. In India, where family values are closely guarded, the notion of separation from children is not so commonplace as it is in the Western world. It is even more challenging in America, where Indian parents have their immediate families as their only ties to homeland. In the movie, Tabu echoes the loneliness that families and immigrants feel abroad, made worse by revolting kids who don't understand their point of view, and the hardships they face that are dealt with resolution and immense strength of mind.
The original theme, although Indian, must not detract the viewer into thinking that it is reserved only for immigrants. Albeit, Jhumpa Lahiri, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for her book, Interpreter of Maladies, layers an otherwise plain story with human emotions and displays of courage and trials that are so honest, one can relate to them effortlessly and draw parallels with one's own experiences.
Last, but not the least, I must mention of Mira Nair. She has spun yet another masterpiece following Monsoon Wedding bordering on the immigrant theme. Mira Nair, who spent her early years in Calcutta was able to depict the Bengali theme effectively. The choice of cast is excellent and not for a moment did I feel that the movie was directed by an "Indian" person, in fact it was just as unbiased and forthcoming as other good Italian or French movies I have seen. There were also scenes of the Victoria Memorial Hall of Calcutta, scenes of Howrah Station, the Howrah Bridge and other locations that are readily identifiable with the city. Indeed, her class is distinct from the rest of Bollywood and Indian wannabes who sport themselves as literary and movie geniuses, the like that are commonly spotted in Westport and Greenwich, CT.
I'm very conservative with my reviews, but this is a movie that deserves an 8/10. When we left the movie theater, the audience was silent and couples walked slowly and grimly out of the theater. It was, to me a testimony to how moving this film was, and I'm sure it will dwell in your memory a long time to come. Cheers to Nair, the cast, and Lahiri for a great collaboration and a timeless movie.
Just got home from the Sept 11, 2006 official world premiere screening
of The Namesake at the Elgin Theatre at the 2006 Toronto International
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.
As another proof that some of the recent award recipients have nothing
to do with quality, here comes an assured and delicate piece of
film-making that will probably not be honoured in the fair manner it
deserves in next year's awards' frenzy. Just the other night, I had the
pleasured to see an accomplished film for the second time: "Inside
Man", and my jaw dropped when I realized that it was mysteriously
absent in any "best of" celebrations. Regardless of what happens in
about one year, audiences should not deny themselves the transcendental
experience from seeing a movie that recognizes the beauty inside
families and how their relationships are a mixture of inner and
external pressures; only to all boil down to one word: Love.
As the title indicates, most of the storyline originates from a very peculiar name, and how it seems to affect the main protagonist. As the plot unfolds, we become involved in a sophisticated, almost flawless, and touching, without being maudlin masterpiece. With stunning camera work, a spiritual and moving score, and astounding performances by the entire cast, we learn to identify the universal values that this marvelous film highlights.
What is truly miraculous in the film is how its director weaves a story from the incongruities between two cultures that couldn't be any more different from each other, and yet, they are mirror reflections of each other. We all cry, feel happiness and disappointment. As our characters grow and change, we feel their sense of wonder, joy, and grief. Seeing them celebrate breaks down any resistance we might have to whatever foreign quality this movie might be. It's exotic, inviting, showing us that we share more than we think. In "The Namesake", a Russian name becomes essential to some of the tribulations of a Hindu American young man. It anchors the love that originates between a mother and her children. As Ashima adjusts to her new surroundings, she manages to hold on her traditions, as she learns to cope with the changes that she can't stop. In the end, she delivers one of the most inspirational speeches in movie history, and we can't do nothing but witness a superb dramatic performance come full circle. Many in Hollywood might feel a tinge of envy as her is an actress that charms us in spite of apparently not trying very hard. Her character is lovely, strong, and sometimes reads like a collection of the best moments in every female great role in the last century. She embodies the best of Scarlett O'Hara, the pain and frustration of Sophie in "Sophie's Choice", some of the regal qualities of Helen Mirren in "The Queen", and she can even sing and makes us laugh, all when a screenplay that addresses the lives of one regular family in New York.
"The Namesake" deserves every single of the kudos people decide to give it. It's a brilliant film, based on an outstanding piece of fiction, and that one that never struggles to be anything else but faithful to its source material, and whose heart never stops beating, with a real and magnificent heart.
Run and enjoy some of the best moments of your life.
As a fellow Bengali and Jhumpa Lahiri fan, I had low expectations for a movie adaptation of her poignant novel (though I think The Interpreter of Maladies was better written). However, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally saw the movie at today's NY Times Arts and Leisure Weekend screening. The movie addresses all issues with care, and makes a non-Bengali audience understand the nuances of Bengali culture. The movie captures the hustle and bustle of India, sets the tone of the movie from the very first scene, and, overall, is heartwarming and true. It is humorous at all the right points, and the transition from a loud, vibrant and colorful life to a lonely, cold, and snow-white New York is breathtaking. You can feel Tabu's (Ashima's) loneliness. Jhumpa Lahiri's cameo is well-appreciated, though many in the audience did not catch it. The movie is respectful of Indian culture and uses small instances as canvases for large messages. Everyone is well-cast. Kal Penn shows himself to be capable of more difficult roles than the college-boy stereotype. Tabu and Irrfan Khan do not disappoint, since they are some of the highest-esteemed actors in India today. I felt like going back to Calcutta during all the Indian scenes. Starting the opening credits with the characters of the actors' names replaced with American characters was witty. "Everyday has been a gift, Gogol," Irrfan Khan (Ashok) tells Kal Penn (Gogol) in the movie, but truly, The Namesake is a wonderful gift for its audience, especially since I saw this movie 5 days before my birthday.
In 2003 days after its publication, I could hardly put down
Pulitzer-winning Jhumpa Lahiri's novel "The Namesake". Lahiri was born
in London to Bengali immigrants, raised in Rhode Island, and now lives
I was therefore excited when I heard that Mira Nair would be directing a film based on the novel. Readers may be familiar with Nair's films, including "Monsoon Wedding" (2001), "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love" (1996), "Mississippi Masala" (1991), and Oscar-nominated "Salaam Bombay!" (1988); she is also in pre-production on a crime drama, "Shantaram", due in 2008.
Mumbai-based graduate of Harvard (where she met Nair) Sooni Taraporevala wrote the screenplay, as she also did on "Mississippi Masala" and "Salaam Bombay!" (incidentally, she is apparently directing her first film, based on her own screenplay, due to be released this spring). I don't know why, but the setting of the film version of the story is changed from Boston to New York and moved about a decade forward.
The story is that of the Gangulis - Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and wife Ashima (Tabu), Kolkata (Calcutta) immigrants to the U.S. in the early 1960s (1970s in the film), their son Gogol (Kal Penn), and his younger sister Sonali/Sonia (Sahira Nair). As a bachelor in India, Ashoke suffers in a train wreck, but his life is saved because, instead of sleeping on the nighttime journey, he had been reading "The Overcoat" by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.
When Ashoke and Ashima's first child is born, they are surprised that they cannot leave the hospital without naming him; they prefer to wait for the great-grandmother's suggestion. The name of the Russian writer occurs to Ashoke, and he assigns "pet name" Gogol. The "good name" that the great-grandmother mailed never arrives, so the name Gogol sticks. As the boy grows, his name bothers him; it is neither Indian nor American, nor even a first name. He legally changes his name at college to "Nikhil".
The story follows Gogol/Nikhil as he goes to Yale University, is inspired to be an architect on a family trip to India when they visit the Taj Mahal, goes to graduate school and on to a job in New York City, and experiences several relationships. Wittingly or not, he follows the advice to "play the field" but to reserve marriage for a woman of Bengali origin.
How do the US-born children relate to India? Where is home for the parents and how do they stay in touch and perform their duties while geographically separated from their extended family? "The Namesake" is a story of the power of a name and of family; the immigrant experience; the search for love, context, and identity.
I enjoyed the film but, as often is the case, I found it to fall short of the book, whose power made me an instant fan of Lahiri's (watch for a cameo appearance by her in the film as Aunt Jhumpa). Armchair criticism is easy, and perhaps more meaningful insight is gained by asking if the medium is effectively used to convey the story's ethos.
The answer is a gentle "yes". One of Lahiri's strengths is attention to detail revealed in a matter-of-fact style that doesn't belabor the obvious. But of course the film cannot fairly be expected to reveal all of the original's subplots, such as Gogol's first relationship with his college sweetheart Ruth, or the myriad details beautifully presented in the book surrounding multicultural birthday celebrations, for example.
The film effectively contrasts the chaotic vibrancy of Kolkata with the much more restrained, anonymous big city life of the States through foundational scenes of bridges the Howrah Bridge over the Hooghly River and Manhattan's 59th Street Bridge. In New York, we can see the business of modern city life rendered mute through a small apartment's glass windows; in India, no such respite from daily life is readily found. Another effective motif is the recurrence of the "Travelogues" exhibit at JFK Airport, reminding us through changing holographic images about the transition in space and culture that the Gangulis experience traveling between America and India.
There are some particularly well composed, emotive scenes, such as the timidly uncertain wave goodbye of Ashima to Ashoke on their first morning in the New World when he leaves on dismal snowy streets for work. I wouldn't, however, characterize the film as a whole as having consistently memorable cinematography, though it is rather effectively subtly understated and helps the story's progress.
The soundtrack could have been more appealing. Perhaps I was too focused on fidelity to the book which of course can simply be an irrelevant distraction, but I didn't relate to the music of high school student Gogol as characteristic of either the late 1970s or 1980s. Strictly speaking, the JFK exhibit was installed in 2000, which is inconsistent in fact and technology with most of the trips that the Ganguli family makes through the airport starting in the 1970s.
All that said, Mira Nair has made a sensitive, touching, and interesting film that triggers an authentic collection of emotions from joy to despair, with dashes of convincingly real everyday humor and chance. I was happy to see in the closing credits two of the three best known Bengali filmmakers mentioned, "For RITWIK GHATAK and SATYAJIT RAY, gurus of cinema with love and salaams"; only Mrinal Sen is missing.
I recommend both the film (expected to be released on March 9) and, especially, the book for immigrants and their friends, as well as to anybody who has felt significant loss, detachment, or uncertain change in their life. It is a story that is remarkable in its subtle depiction of the flip sides of the coin of history and promise.
(I saw the film at a pre-release screening on February 16, 2007 in Cary, NC USA. My review is a version of one that I am publishing in the forthcoming March issue of "Saathee Magazine".)
Meticulously observed and wonderfully heartfelt, this time-spanning
2007 family dramedy represents a return to form for director Mira Nair,
who faltered somewhat with 2004's elaborate "Vanity Fair". This one is
also a literary adaptation but this time from a contemporary
best-seller by Jhumpa Lahiri, who wrote an emotionally drawn story
about first generation Bengali immigrants to the United States and
their U.S.-born children. It's an intricate book full of careful
nuances, and Nair, along with screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, captures
most of them in a most loving manner. The story speaks fluently to the
universal struggle to extricate ourselves from the obligation of family
and a perceived enslavement to the past. Nair and Taraporevala manage
to transcend the necessarily episodic nature of the novel to make it an
involving journey toward self-acceptance.
The film initially focuses on Ashoke Ganguli and his arranged marriage to Ashima, a classically trained singer. The young couple move from Calcutta in 1977 to Queens in order for him to pursue his career as an electrical engineer. The adjustment is difficult, especially for Ashima in assimilating into the often cold U.S. culture, and these quiet scenes show a keen eye for subtle observation. They quickly have two children in succession, son Gogol and daughter Sonia. Gogol's name is the key plot point as he was inadvertently after Ashoke's favorite writer, Nikholai Gogol, and this is revealed to have greater significance as the story unfolds. Eventually, the film switches the perspective to Gogol's as he grows up, changes his name to Nikhil and starts his life as a yuppie architect in Manhattan.
At the same, the film does not abandon Ashoke and Ashima as they remain significant figures in shaping Gogol's destiny, especially as the impact of a tragic turn brings unexpected changes. The cathartic aspect of these scenes is what makes the film powerful. Moreover, with her film-making experience in her native India and the U.S., Nair brings a seamless fluency to both locales. The movie falters a bit toward the end when it starts to ramble and feel pat, but the story's old world gravitas rescues it just in time. Beforehand I was convinced Kal Penn would be the spoiler in this film, but he gives a sharp, dedicated performance as Gogol. Poised to be taken seriously as an actor even amid his White Castle and Van Wilder movies, he seems a bit exaggerated only in the early teenage scenes which recall those other movies.
However, it is the superb work of Irfan Khan and Tabu as his parents that make the film soar. Both bring a level of assurance and compassion that ground the film completely, especially Tabu who makes the seemingly modest character arc of Ashima really striking. Playing yet another variation of the spoiled American girl, Jacinda Barrett again proves how fearless an actress she can be in exposing the vanity and ignorance of Maxine, Gogol's first serious girlfriend. As Moushumi, the Bengali girl who comes with the family's seal of approval, Zuleikha Robinson has a ripe presence to match her character's aspiring worldliness. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes and production designer Stephanie Carroll provide masterful work in capturing the diverse flavors of the different locales. This film is for anyone who has struggled to forge his or her own identity only to find the need to embrace the past, especially those of us who have parents who displayed the courage to move from their native lands.
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.
I got to see this wonderfully fulfilling film by chance at a private
screening.I had no expectations other than the fact that it was a Mira
The film is a journey of a couple from Bengal to America and their lives with their children in a different culture, and the ultimate realization of the main characters - brilliantly played by Tabu, Kal Pen, and Irfaan.
The emotion of Loss has been portrayed extremely poignantly and beautifully by Mira, the loss of one's parents, the loss of one's children, and the loss of one's partner, leaving behind nothing but yourself and trying to find freedom and joy after the loss.This is a universal story , with universal emotions, and one that cuts across all cultures as its a film about what we all go through or will go through.
Tabu and Irfaan as the main couple have delivered a knockout performance, and kal Pen works well as gogol.The emotions are subtly handled and very effectively, as besides making me laugh at many points, the film made me cry for a long time ,well after it was over.
Sooni Taraporewala, has written a fabulous screenplay, and this film for me is my top film this year, Babel comes close.
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