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The Namesake (2006)

PG-13 | | Drama | 6 April 2007 (USA)
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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.

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(screenplay), (novel)
4 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Nikhil a.k.a. Gogol
... Ashima
... Ashoke
... Maxine
... Moushumi Mazumdar
... Sally
Sahira Nair ... Sonia
Jagannath Guha ... Ghosh
... Ashoke's Mother
Sandip Deb ... Music Teacher
... Rini
Tanushree Shankar ... Ashima's Mother
... Ashima's Father
Tamal Ray Chowdhury ... Ashoke's Father
Dhruv Mookerji ... Rana
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Storyline

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 rAjOo (gunwanti@hotmail.com)

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Two Worlds. One Journey. See more »

Genres:

Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

6 April 2007 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El buen nombre  »

Filming Locations:

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$248,552, 11 March 2007

Gross USA:

$8,661,334

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$2,100,761
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Mira Nair originally wanted Abhishek Bachchan to play the part of Gogol, but changed her mind as she wanted someone who looks like he is raised in the US, so she cast Kal Penn as he was very keen to do the role, and also because Mira Nair's son wanted Kal Penn to do the role. See more »

Goofs

When the family is in the airport (leaving the US), they're in the International Arrivals (not Departures) area of JFK Airport. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Man: Mm, what are you reading?
Ashoke Ganguli: Hm? "The Overcoat", by Gogol.
See more »

Crazy Credits

For Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray, the gurus of cinema, with love and salaams. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Bong Connection (2006) See more »

Soundtracks

Barbershop Rap
Written by Michael E. Arrington, Jason Bonilla and Ian Dalsemer
Performed by The Elements and Mykill Miers
Courtesy of The Elements
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A story of the power of a name and of family; the immigrant experience; the search for love, context, and identity
22 February 2007 | by See all my reviews

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 in Brooklyn.

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".)


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