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A Nutshell Review: The Namesake
DICK STEEL8 April 2007
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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I Didn't Want It To End
alicegriffin3 March 2007
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.
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Best Movie So Far in 2007
aharmas20 March 2007
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.
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Truly Universal and Cathartic Adaptation of Lahiri's Time-Spanning Novel
EUyeshima10 March 2007
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.
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An enduring story of love, courage and struggles faced by American immigrants
xbsd19 March 2007
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.
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A story of the power of a name and of family; the immigrant experience; the search for love, context, and identity
Dilip22 February 2007
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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Entertaining and universal
saareman11 September 2006
Just got home from the Sept 11, 2006 official world premiere screening of The Namesake at the Elgin Theatre at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.

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.
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Moving and beautifully filmed
kdutta123 October 2006
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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It blew me away...
Dingataca17 February 2008
*Minor Spoilers*

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".
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A very well-shot, vibrant film that captures the nuances of Bengali culture, as well as the loneliness universally felt by all persons.
dashing-snigdha7 January 2007
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.
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Rich and warm and subtle film: a revelation
Chris Knipp17 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Mira Nair's The Namesake is a film adaptation of a bestseller by Jhumpa Lahri about two generations of Indians. What a difference from her unsuccessful Vanity Fair! In this story about a Bengali couple who make a home in New York and whose American-born children must learn to live in two cultures, Nair, herself an Indian born in London, has found material she truly understands. Because it condenses a multi-generational novel the movie is crammed with incident, but its busy succession of scenes provides a novelistic richness and the action is put over by a winning cast.

Bollywood regulars play the parents. Ashoke ("Baba," an appealingly nerdy Irshan Khan) is a professor, bringing his arranged bride, a beautiful classical singer, Ashima (Tabu), to enjoy the New World -- gas 24 hours a day, a world of opportunity, and machines that shrink all her husband's sweaters -- as they tentatively and sweetly get to know and love each other. Later they have a girl, but it's their male first born who becomes the main character of the second half. Gogol Ganguli is oddly named, and therein hangs a tale. Playing Gogol from adolescence on is the young Indian-American comic Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) who here graduates with flying colors from the college humor of Harold and Kumar (which comes in handy in his first few scenes) into a mature dramatic role. Penn succeeds in embodying all the qualities that make this a wonderful movie, its love, humor, good will, and wry sense of cultural confusion.

We first see him as a ratty-haired, pot-smoking teenager. He tells a couple of stoner pals about how making out with a girl was wrecked when she asked his name.

"Gogol Ganguli"! they chirp. "End of seduction 101," says Gogol.

With his liquid black eyes and dark skin Kal Penn looks thoroughly Indian, alright, but his ironic, amused air may be American-made. When he opens his mouth, what comes out is 100% USA. Like his sister and a young bookish Francophile woman from another Bengali family visiting from London who both eventually become beautiful and chic, over time Gogol also turns from a gawky youth into a handsome, rather elegant man. Nair is as good at physical transformations as she is at cultural subtleties.

Facing conflicts over cultural identity, Kal Penn as Gogol Ganguli has some struggling to do but remains immensely likable. So does everybody in The Namesake except Maxime (Jacinda Barrett), an annoying, not very deeply portrayed rich white girl Gogol (who's changed his name to Nick now) gets involved with while studying architecture at Yale.

Nair keeps the Indian gemütlichkeit of some of her earlier movies but the novel adds a bitter edge of realism. This comes when, with his son at Yale, Gogol's father goes to Cleveland to teach for six months and suddenly dies there. The sight of "Baba's" "nice" but sterile apartment in Cleveland when he first arrives is chilling. It screams its emptiness -- an absence of all Indian culture offers: warmth, family, tradition. Ashima chose not to accompany Ashoke to Cleveland. When the tragedy happens he is alone. Their daughter has moved away, and "Nick" is with his WASP princess in Oyster Bay escaping from his ethnic background and he forgets even to call his mother to say he's okay.

He shaves his head in mourning when he learns of his father's death, and back home for the wake experiences a guilt that brings him back to his father and his name and the story behind it. In this context the self-centeredness of his culturally tone-deaf WASP girlfriend is highlighted. She seems to think she can go to India with them for the scattering of the father's ashes into the Ganges. She thinks it will be great fun. "No, it's a family thing," Gogol says, and he ejects her from his life.

"Nick" goes back to see the formerly bookish and odd Francophile girl from a London Bengali family. Moushume (Zuleikha Robinson) is now living in New York, available, and a very sexy woman. Their marriage follows almost too fast, but that's the point. Gogol's sister Sonia (Sahira Nair) has an American boyfriend, but this mixed relationship works and is accepted by their mother -- who decides to sell the house and spend six months a year in India returning to the practice of classical song. You can go home again, in fact you must. But if you're bi-cultural and second generation, it's tricky. Sonia and Gogol are left to work out their salvation with diligence

The conundrum of living in two cultures is embedded in the story of Gogol's name. But the beauty of it is that we get hints, not lectures or homilies. As "Baba" tells it, the name has something to do with a dangerous railway trip and a man with advice on the train; the impulse to travel, to explore; the need to give thanks for survival. The Gogol involved is him of The Overcoat. "We all, "Baba" says, came out of that overcoat."

The Namesake is partly a song of praise for America, the land of sky's the limit, of becoming whoever you want to be. It's also an affirmation that you can't get away from who you are. It's far more besides, but it's useless trying to spell out all the themes of a movie that's so satisfying and specific. With it, Nair has moved to a whole new level as a filmmaker.
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realistic saga of alienation and identity
Chris_Docker30 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Dostoyevsky is credited with saying, "We all came out of Gogol's overcoat," referring to a seminal short story by Nikolai Gogol, and suggesting how this tale, 'The Overcoat' was the cornerstone of Russia's realistic school of fiction. The phrase occurs several times in The Namesake, a saga examining inherited identity and alienation, in Calcutta and New York City.

The film follows two generations of the Ganguli family. Beautiful Ashima, through a happy arranged marriage, moves from Calcutta to New York, where her new husband lives. Everything is so new to her (she puts curry powder on her Rice Krispies). She does everything that her culture and upbringing has taught her about being a loving wife. A Bengali whose intelligence has enabled him to make a successful career in America, husband Ashoke treats Ashima lovingly as she adjusts. They form a deep and passionate bond. Although still longing for the family and culture they knew in India, they take pride in the opportunities of a country where 'anything is possible' and raise two children, the oldest of which, Gogol, qualifies for Yale. American-born Gogol struggles to find his own identity without losing his inherited background. He particularly dislikes his un-American name. But his name represents the family's journey into the unknown. We also see a strange parallel as a Westernised Bengali woman insists on maintaining her maiden name (who has established herself under that name as an author).

At the start of the film, a train accident almost kills Ashoke. A few bloodstained pages from a book of Russian short stories that he was reading help rescuers spot him in the rubble. Later, when his son is born, they are forced to choose a name quickly. They settle on 'Gogol', the name of the author.

Bafta-nominated Director, Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, Salaam Bombay!) has lived and worked in New York and Calcutta and brings a sense of teeming humanity and passion that these places share. "For me, the language of the streets in both cities became a very important link to glue these two worlds together," says Nair.

Visual themes link the Gangulis' lives in both countries, such as the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta and the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan. Production designer Stephanie Carroll noted, "In New York the design stresses elements of concrete, cement, chrome, steel, pewter and taxi cab yellow. In Calcutta there are more natural elements of stone, wood, leather, iron, copper, gold and the red of saris. But always for the Gangulis, both countries contain an abundance of 'masti': the stuff of life."

A strange dichotomy affects the US and to an extent the Western hemisphere. America's high-tech industries are powered by foreign brains. Roughly 40% of those gaining PhDs in computer science and engineering are from abroad. A third of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by Indians or Chinese. Yet the immigration system has become skewed towards families rather than talent. High-IQ applicants face humiliating waits of months for the necessary documents. All this on top of the trauma of immigrating to a very different society. The Namesake highlights the trauma of moving to a strange culture not with the humour and lightness of previous east-meets-west films, but with depth of emotion, passion, intelligence and beauty. It makes us look with new respect at customs we so easily dismiss such as (consensual) arranged marriage. Like the Russian writer's stories, it reflects realism.

Ashima is played by Tabu, one of India's foremost actresses. It is her powerful performance that carries what could otherwise be a slow film. She goes from young shy girl to a mother in her forties. In an affectionate moment after many years in the US, she teases her husband saying, "You want me to say, 'I love you' - like the Americans?" Not only does she have to portray a range of emotion from differing cultures, but often powerful feelings need to be sublimated, only hinted at. "Ashima means 'without borders, limitless.'" Ashima has to find her own freedom, which is very different to that of Gogol. Her devotion, sincerity and bearing all find a more balanced course than the woman who turns down a lucrative academic offer to be "a good Bengali housewife and make samosas every Thursday from scratch."

Our interdependence and understanding of other cultures is helped by many factors, but English-language films of this stature could have an immense part to play. In a broader sense, we all came out of Gogol's overcoat.
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Really good but perhaps too much to pack into one film.
planktonrules26 July 2009
This film begins in India in 1977. A young woman meets an eligible man in her parent's home and then, after approving the match, they are soon married. However, he lives in New York and so the bride is soon pulled into a strange new culture. The rest of the film revolves around this marriage and the two children from this union (in particular, the focus is on the son).

I love Mira Nair's films, so I was favorably disposed towards this movie at the outset. However, while I am glad I watched it, I have two strong misgivings. First, because there is so much ground to cover (about 30 years of a family's history), the film comes off as very, very episodic. At times, the film jumps many years at a time and I found this disconcerting and I wanted to see more--because what we saw, I liked. Second, and this is related to my last complaint, is that because the film bounces around so much, the overall effect comes off as very cold and disconnected. Too often, I felt like I really didn't know the people at all. In other words, while the viewer learns about things these people do, who they are down deep is often an enigma. Plus, since you don't really get to know people, too often I had a hard time connected to them or caring about them when bad things occurred to them. Now perhaps this WAS the purpose of the film--the sense of emotional isolation and disconnect these people had, but still I wanted so much more.

I guess my complaints are probably more severe than some viewers might have because I have already seen several films about Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese families living in Western countries (such as the US, Canada and UK), so the idea wasn't so novel. As for me, I know what I would have liked. Instead of a two hour movie, it would have been great to break this into two or even three films or perhaps a miniseries. Really--there's just so much stuff and so many wonderful moments that are missed otherwise. For a somewhat similar experience, try watching "Bollywood/Hollywood", "Bend It Like Beckham" or "Double Happiness"--all are excellent.

On the positive side, however, it does give some insights into Indian culture and how tough it might be to live in a foreign culture--both for the first and second generation. Nice insights and some very touching moments.

Overall, not a bad film at all and well worth seeing--just don't be surprised if it leaves you wanting a lot more.
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Achingly authentic and resonant, beautifully structured, and enthralling
ametaphysicalshark27 August 2008
"The Namesake" is one of those movies which stuns the viewer with how much it conveys and how subtly it does so within a simple, straightforward structure. Nair's visual style which she has developed over the course of her prestigious career is very careful and nuanced, with heavy focus put on relative realism and avoiding the melodrama many movies fall into too easily. There are moments here where the inevitable Bollywood influence on Nair shines through (a beautiful scene following the lead character's marriage), but it's always the vibrancy and joy of Bollywood films that shine through, not the melodrama and sappiness.

"The Namesake" was written by frequent Nair collaborator Sooni Taraporevala, who was also responsible for Nair's signature effort "Salaam Bombay!", and by now the collaboration seems a perfect fit, as the script fits Nair's style and better features as director immensely well. It's amazing how there are many, many 'relationship movies' out there, but few with the sort of resonance and honesty which "The Namesake" features without going into any real philosophical or psychological examination of human relationships. I can always point to numerous Woody Allen films, especially my personal favorite "Crimes and Misdemeanors" for real depth when examining relationships, and to numerous other filmmakers such as Bergman as well, but "The Namesake" belongs to another breed of film, one which simply, subtly, and realistically portrays relationships without necessarily commenting on them (a much derided favorite of mine, "Chasing Amy", belongs to the same exclusive club, but veers into melodrama much more than this does).

Moreover, "The Namesake" is a wonderfully involving character study focused on Kal Penn's character Gogol (aka Nikhil) and his search for his identity and his relationships not only with his family and romantic partners but also with his culture and with his name (the last part is less silly than it sounds, trust me). Nothing here is necessarily new, as we've seen examinations of immigrant life in the US before, and from the same director even, but it's done with such vigor and honesty here, and a complete lack of either overtly manipulative sappiness or pretentious cynicism (I know, I know, I hate the word 'pretentious' too, but it fits here given what I'm trying to say) that "The Namesake" works wonderfully. Kal Penn is a revelation here, but Tabu and Irfan Khan, who play his character's parents are even better and lend the film a stunning sense of authenticity.

Mira Nair has always been a director to watch, and with "The Namesake" she made a relatively successful film on a commercial level ($29.6 million internationally) and an immensely successful one on an artistic level. It's great to see her getting more and more recognition, as she makes wonderful, tasteful films which contain real and honest emotion. I loved "The Namesake" and can't recommend it enough. Unquestionably one of the best films of 2007 (the year it was first shown outside festivals), and one of Nair's very best.

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Out from Gogol's overcoat…The Namesake
jaredmobarak18 April 2007
Everyone has regrets during the course of their life. Mira Nair's new film, The Namesake, seeks to expound on that idea by showing how a family can live through, overcome, and circumvent them. Based on a well-received novel, the story revolves around a Bengali family whose mother and father have immigrated to America to give their children an opportunity for a life with limitless possibilities. One's heritage and culture can sometimes seem daunting to uphold, especially when in the land of the free, where it is much easier to just leave it on the side of the road as you continue on your own course. If this movie does anything, it shows how even if you don't feel like you are doing something wrong, tragedy can strike, bringing you back to the reality of knowing there are more people then yourself in life, and the way you lived it might have been completely opposite of how you should have.

The Namesake truly encompasses its viewers with the world that it is taking a glimpse into. We have the American traveler back home in India to find a bride, and his future love's acceptance of leaving all she has worked for to go halfway around the world with him. Ashoke and Ashima are very traditional in their ways and assimilate into America, slowly moving up to a home of their own and two young children to share life with. The Ganguli family goes through many ordeals and each is shown in a realistic way allowing the audience to care for these people. Anyone watching will be able to see a mirror on screen to his or her own reality and the trials and tribulations of growing old and independent while still trying to keep the love as close-knit as it was before. However, while a good portion of the film deals with Ashoke, and especially Ashima's journey to America, this background is really setup to bring us to the point where the story begins to follow young Gogol through his maturity into a man. The movie is titled The Namesake, after all, lending itself to be a tale of the offspring. That aspect is shown right from the start when Ashoke is shown on a train that eventually derails. We are given no answers, but instead a fade to black and the start of our journey.

Life needs a bit of tragedy in order to allow our eyes to be opened to the fragility of it all. We can't spend our lives living without fear, because it is that transient quality that keeps us going and striving for more. Ashoke was slowly becoming a robot in his life, visiting his grandfather like clockwork each month, heeding his words that books allow one to travel without moving an inch. That was a life he was beginning to enjoy until the fateful event on his train ride that changed his life forever. It was this instance, marked by a novel he was reading by the author Gogol, which begins it all. It is also this moment that commences his son's descent into conformity himself. What liberates the father eventually becomes the thing that makes his son build walls around his life. It is manifested by the strange first name, in honor of a suicidal eccentric, but really is the clash between his family's traditional ways and the independent life he sees in front of him that causes the struggle within. Rather than accepting who he is so that he can continue on any course of his choosing, he finds he is ashamed, denouncing his very essence, feeling that conforming is the only path he has for success. Life is very cyclical, though, and Gogol himself confronts a moment like no other, one that thaws his heart and soul, allowing him to finally see what life is about. Live with no regrets and you can deal with whatever comes your way.

Besides this being a beautiful story, it brings along with it some wonderful performances. Our main character of Gogol is played to great effect by Kal Penn. Having a filmography consisting of mostly comedic and stereotypical roles, I wasn't quite sure what to make of his casting. However, besides some moments of strain trying to express the rebelliousness and awe of a high school graduate, Penn really takes the role from college years and beyond making it his own. His performance is full of emotion and needs him to be able to turn on the two halves of his life in favor of the other. His confusion and inability to choose which way to go holds everything together. The real stars, though, are Tabu and Irfan Khan, playing Ashima and Ashoke respectively. Tabu is wonderful playing both the scared and cautious newcomer to the US and the resilient, loving mother who holds her family as the most valuable possession she has. As for Khan, he embodies his character like no other. Here is a man with so much intelligence and compassion, all trapped inside his calm demeanor and businesslike façade. These two partook in an arranged marriage, yet the love between them is overwhelming. Never do they need to speak of it aloud, nor show it with more than a smile.

How the tale progresses will leave you with a mingled feeling of both heartbreak and hope. The Ganguli family goes through a lot as it evolves through its generations, passing on wisdom learned. Every moment is real and no second is wasted. Even when I thought it shouldn't have continued on past a point I saw as a fitting conclusion, Nair proved me wrong by bringing us a new journey, necessary for the story to be whole. If you don't leave this film feeling the necessity to see your family, not to verbally express your feelings, but just to acknowledge that they do and always will exist, your heart is already too far gone.
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review on namesake
subramaniam-chitra17 January 2007
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 Nair film.

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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What a Wonderful Film!
Sylviastel16 July 2015
This why movies are made in the first place. Based on the novel of the same name, a young Indian couple moves to America where they have a family including a son named Gogol and his sister Sonia. Gogol is perfectly played by Kal Penn. He gives a heart wrenching performance as the adult son torn between family and America. Everybody in this film gives a hundred percent. There are many enjoyable scenes. Gogol comes to terms with his own namesake. The filming was done between New York City and Calcutta, India. This film has rich developed characters, humor, warmth, and love. I nearly cried but didn't. It takes a lot to get me to cry but I was close.
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The Immigrant experience made universal
mjjusa-114 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I have heard of 'Bollywood' for years. I even read a great detective novel once years ago set in and around the movie sets and business and was a page-turner and I thought 'what a great movie this would make!' Alas, in the late afternoon after seeing a great Indian/American movie, sitting in an Irish bar in Chicago drinking a Corona on 'Mexican Night' in as American a setting as is possible, I can't recall the novel's title.

Van Morrison in the background and TVs glowing with a silent Sports center, an Irish bartender popping by and asking what I am writing about and we talk of how recent movies have done more to integrate the new immigrant experience than any PC news stories or forced curricula or multicultural faces on the nine o'clock new team. 'Lone Star' made the Mexican illegal immigrant story all of our stories. 'In America' reacquainted us all to the Irish experience and how wonderful America really is amid the constant barrage of what is wrong what needs to be apologized for in an orgy of self-loathing, and how human that menacing black guy is who lives across the hall and seems so threatening.

Movies do that, great movies do that and now with 'The Namesake' we have can come to understand the Indian immigrant experience in a way nothing else could. Its exuberance is Bollywood, its story is Hollywood.

It tells the story of a family, of a father and mother and their children and their faith in America and you wait for cynicism, you wait for the rubbing of our noses in the innate racism of America that we all know is there because every movie and TV show tells us that that is the reality of America, and it doesn't happen. The people in this movie are people, no over dramatization, not a false move or emotion, one scene among hundreds a bit off, several scenes so on that one can't hide the tears.

I realized after becoming a father that the tragedy of life is not that we die and that we know we must die, but that we have to grow old to watch our children grow up. If we could just freeze time in our early thirties when our kids are four or five and not have to be fifty to see them becoming adults and in our sixties to watch them marry and have children, life would not be so cruel. In 'The Namesake' a traditional arranged Bengali marriage becomes a loving pairing for life. A son is born and in the face of American bureaucracy is named 'Gogol' after the Russian author. Much later he is given his traditional Indian name but with the coming of first grade claims his American, by way of 19th century Russia, name and sets into motion the delicate, beautiful unfolding of why the movie is called 'The Namesake.' A daughter, children growing up, the parents slowly graying, America hugs their children to its bosom and makes them unrecognizable to the parents. The family returns to India for a visit when the kids are at their most high school cynical and we go to as companions and look at India with the Indian American teenagers and wish we to somehow had such an interesting family and such a rich heritage.

Then Gogol reaches adulthood and takes his Indian name. He and his sister fall in love with others with mixed results, a marriage happens, Indian customs and American freedom, careers and decisions. All true to the characters, true to situation of immigrants. Heartbreak, business success, the death of relatives unseen for years in India, the reality for so many immigrants that their new lives take them away from their old lives forever. The viewer soaks it all up, as a gentle rain, unforced, universal, lovely, brimming with humanity.

I was in a elevator today with an older Indian gentleman, very much like the father in the movie, scuffed shoes, but of quality, suit, tie, a formality in bearing, thousands of miles from Bengal, thousands of miles from Delhi, from a two thousand year old culture living in a two hundred year old one…I wanted to ask him if he had seen the movie. I didn't. I could not break the silence of an elevator. But, I knew him. I think I knew him.

The movie meanders. It happens. You don't feel a plot. You feel life. At the end a scene is replayed, a memory remembered. I got tears in my eyes. The young father with his young son at a beach on a cold cloudy day. The boy's hand safely in his father's. The father realizing that he had forgotten the camera but wanting to have something to make sure that his son, as a man remembered being there, being there with his father, being a child with his hand so safe in his father's hand, and his father bending over and saying 'Gogol, remember this.' And, he does.
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Nair sings a beautiful song: Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Namesake'
Chrysanthepop5 June 2007
To me 'The Namesake' is one of the most memorable films of recent time. It's one that I very much can relate to as I see part of my own story and the story of my parents. I am not an Indian but that does not matter as the film tells a universal story. Nair tells the story in such a sensitive way. It shows that she really put a lot of heart in the making. Nair did her research very well as her portrayal of colourful Calcutta in contrast to New York is outstanding and credit also goes to the cinematographer for vivaciously showing the two cities. The two cities are so different, yet so alike. Perhaps it's a reflection of the characters.

Ashoke and Ashima remind me of my parents. Played to perfection by Irfan Khan and Tabu respectively (two of India's greatest gifts to cinema), they share an amazing chemistry, and they beautifully display Ashoke and Ashima's amazing relationship based on respect, attachment, security, friendship and love. The two actors' knowledge and use of the Bengali language is both impeccable and impressive. There are numerous beautiful and memorable moments of acting like the scene where Ashoke's in the hospital talking to Ashima, Ashima breaking down, Ashoka proposing to Ashima, Ashima wearing his shoes...and oh so many more.

Kal Penn is decent as the maturing son but as a teenager he isn't much different from his other films. Jacinda Barett's role is a little half baked. Ditto for Zuleikha Robinson (but she acts better).

Nair directs the movie like a memorable song, a song about a family. There's a fantastic soundtrack that beautifully contributes to the screenplay. I loved the music and the songs. 'The Namesake' is a wonderful gift from Mira Nair and Jhumpa Lahiri. It's about growth, it's about love, commitment, loneliness, happiness, passion, grief...and life. If you haven't seen it yet, well, what are you waiting for?
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One-Line Review: The Namesake / Pure Gold Drama with an Indian Touch / 9 Stars
nairtejas12 April 2020
If Mira Nair's The Namesake does not push you into nostalgia with its soothing Indian classical music picturised on golden dramatic moments nothing will. TN.
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Well done
alkarania16 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this at the September 13, 2006 screening at the Toronto Film Festival because the September 11 screening was sold out by the time we bought our tickets, unfortunately. Director Mira Nair (and another woman who was her producer, I believe) briefly introduced the movie.

I recently read the novel and the movie is very well done and a pretty faithful adaptation. Everyone does a fabulous job, but I particularly liked Irfan Khan as Ashoke and Kal Penn as Gogol. I have read that Mira Nair had seriously considered casting Abishek Bachchan as Gogol, which would have been a huge mistake. It is very important that Gogol be an American, and no Indian actor would have been able to pull this off. The movie takes place in New York, not Boston, and Ashima sings, but these do not particularly change the story. Moushumi is presented as quite the sexy bombshell, which she wasn't particularly in the book.

My major criticism is that I feel the movie was very unfair to Jacinda Barrett's character (Gogol's blond girlfriend Maxine). She was shown to be clueless, calling Gogol's parents by their first names, kissing Ashoke and Ashima and holding Gogol's hand when she meets his parents even though he had explicitly told her not to, and arriving at Ashoke's funeral wearing a sleeveless black top. This seemed to have been put in to make us all groan and laugh at the silly white girl. Gogol also treats her unfairly when she wants to share in his grief and come to India with them to scatter his father's ashes, when she fairly points out that Gogol had been treated as part of her family. In the book she had grown up in a very liberal household and called her own parents by their first names, very different from Gogol, but she knew how to behave around others.

But otherwise, a very moving film. I would highly recommend seeing it.
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It's a beautiful film that deserves praise
mikayakatnt24 December 2020
There are few films that accurately capture the struggles of being a first-generation immigrant in the US.

Disclaimer: I have not read the book before watching this film so my review may be biased.

The Namesake is a beautiful film that weaves together the life of father & son and their journey through life. It contrasts the traditional Indian life vs idealistic American values. It's a movie about father-and-son love, family, and one's own identity in the world.

This is a film that gets its viewers invested in every character.

From the start, the legendary Irrfan Khan plays one of the most memorable roles I've seen as Ashoke Ganguli. We get a sense of adventure that awaits him before he moves to America. As the movie goes on, we also get to see Ashoke becoming the well-meaning loving father who only wants the best for his family.

Kal Penn plays the rebellious Gogol/Nikhil/Nick who feels frustrated with why he is "different." Audiences understand his sense of rebellion and seeking his own place in the world.

And Tabu plays a stellar performance as Ashima. We get a sense of understanding as she gives up her old life for a new one in a foreign country.

The Namesake is an emotional and beautiful film that blends cultures. Mira Nair did wonders with the plot and bringing the stories and characters to life. Small subtleties from the first-generation experience are captured that few people understand.

4.5/5. Congrats to Mira Nair & Jhumpa Lahiri for bringing to life such a wonderful story.
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Ashima's journey
SnoopyStyle28 February 2016
Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan Khan) is on a train reading Gogol in India when it crashes. After recovering from the life-altering incident, he moves to America following his train companion's advise. In 1977, he returns to Calcutta to marry singer Ashima. Ashima is homesick when they move to his poor neighborhood in Queens, New York. They have a son Gogol and a girl Sonia. Gogol (Kal Penn) hates his name and is embarrassed by his culture. After a trip to India, he becomes comfortable with his culture, decides to study architecture and switch back to his 'good' name. He falls for Maxine Ratliff (Jacinda Barrett) from a rich white family.

The movie is expansive and beautiful. I love Ashima's journey. It's so touching and the quintessential immigrant story. The movie needs to be tighter with the drama. It doesn't have much drama to begin with. Also it needs to stay with her for the whole movie. I would rather this not be a movie about Gogol. The switch in the point of view works to some extend although Gogol's journey is very different. I guess the movie does need to follow him to get the name's origin. The time jumps don't always allow the story to flow but Ashima is always the emotional heart.
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Slow but rewarding
JohnDeSando25 March 2007
If you'd like to know an example of "saga" that eschews violence and sex to concentrate on the impact of global living on the family unit, then see the brilliant director Mira Nair's Namesake. She traces a young Indian, Gogol, from his youth through his almost mid-life in New York with the kind of attention to detail and sympathy we all should hope from our biographers. Gogol's name derives from the Russian author with clear thematic relevance to his famous short story, The Overcoat.

Besides being literarily astute, the story exudes sympathy for families whose children pursue lives outside strong ethnic links, but whose influence is a daily reminder of a simpler time in a homeland offering more stability and love than the glamorous but unforgiving world-class New York. Nair's narrative is slow but rewarding so that no character's fate seems capricious, no culture overwhelming enough to keep a progressive child from emigrating to the New World.

In a way, Nair has caught the bittersweet nature of change, embodied in America as the Promised Land and India as the nurturing, safe past. The beauty of the slow but profound Namesake is that both worlds are the province of the progressive child, whose challenge is to retain the values of both in a global culture. The motifs such as changing names or slipping into someone else's shoes remind me of how well Mike Nichols integrates his symbolism into his otherwise realistic mise en scene.

No one who has seen Salaam Bombay or Monsoon Wedding can question Nair's romantic capture of culture crude and sublime. She is one of the genius directors of the century.
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Family values and tradition
KineticSeoul30 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a great family values and tradition movie I seen and has quite a bit of heart to it. The story has two focus basically on Ashoke the husband and Ashima the mother and how they met which is basically through an arrangement. And how they have Indian roots but moved to America and how they cope with the cultures and traditions of a different country. But most of the story revolves around Gogol(Kal Penn) who is the son of Ashoke and Ashima and him being adapted to the American cultures and traditons and how his family feels like he is losing his Indian roots. And the value of family because of the choices he makes. This is a touching flick that has heart and deals with Gogol's walking a path to his Indian roots. This is a heartfelt movie that I thoroughly enjoyed watching. During the credits it says "for our parents who gave us everything" and this movie shows this in a touching way.

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