American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.
I have wanted to watch this movie from the very beginning, but never actually got around to it, and now, after watching this last night, I wish I had watched it earlier. But better late than never.
The film starts with Ashoke Ganguli, (Irrfan Khan) a bookworm, marrying Ashima (Tabu), a trained classical singer. The two then move from Calcutta, East India to Queens, New York; essential as Ashoke must continue with his engineering career. The change is difficult for both, especially Ashima, and she strives to adjust to her new life and the new culture she is now living in. Soon after the couple have two children, Sonia (Sahira Nair), and Gogol (Kal Penn). Gogol was named after Ashoke's favourite author Nicholai Gogol, and we learn that the name means a lot as the film progresses. The film then shifts perspective to Gogol's life. We see Gogol as a teenager, his battles with his name, neither Indian or American, and the ridicule he suffers as an adolescent. We then see Gogol pursuing his career as an Manhattan-based urban architect, and his personal struggle to find his own identity without letting go of his inherited background.
The Namesake deals with loss, life, relationships and the main characters evoke a collection of emotions which vary from gaiety to misery, pain to love. We get a look into cultural clashes, traditional values versus Americanized, modern thinking. But I found the The Namesake is not a nationality war, but a mature and understanding tale, full of tolerance and experience. And just watching the movie, I was given an insight of what many people, including even my parents, must have been through. It was extremely moving.
The performances of the main characters - the Ganguli family, have been some of the most powerful performances for me to watch on screen. Irrfan Khan and Tabu, two of the finest actors in Indian Cinema, perfected their roles and brought life into their characters. They were, for me, the finest performances, the REAL stars. They also had a fantastic chemistry, which was subtle and pure. Khan was outstanding as Ashoke, this is the first movie of his I have watched, and I now see what makes him such a admirable, first-rate actor. Tabu was also brilliant. Her performance as Ashima was so realistic to me. I saw in her what I see in my grandmother, devotion, sincerity, and most of all, acceptance. I was endeared to her character instantly - "Ashima means without borders, limitless". A particularly memorable scene would be her and Ashoke waving goodbye to their family in Calcutta, a moment that had me spellbound at the reality of the scene. Kal Penn was extraordinary as Gogol. Being an Indian myself, also one not living in my homeland, I could identify with Gogol a lot. His performance was full of sensitivity and emotion and it really came through to me. We see his growth as a rebellious graduate to a fine young man, and I was not expecting this from Kal Penn at all, as his filmography is full of stereotypical, comical roles, but he proved me wrong.
Mira Nair's direction of this movie is a blessing. I thought it was miraculous of her to fit an entire 2 generations and 3 decades in two hours. And the pace of which she did it with is beautifully done. Her cast choice was great, and I found The Namesake to have a certain class, a certain sensibility to it. Her depiction of Calcutta and New York was one of the key points in the film, and I loved the way she made them both so real. She made a bustling, colourful Calcutta, and a dull, raging New York so genuine. They were both so similar, but again so different.
"We all came out of Gogol's Overcoat".
- Feb 17, 2008