Year: March 9, 2007 in the U.S.
Actors: Irfan Khan, Kal Penn, Tabu, Jacinda Barret, Sahira Nair
Director: Mira Nair
Producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher
Screenplay: Sooni Taraporevala
Story: Jhumpa Lahiri
Music: Nitin Sawhney
The Namesake is a gorgeous movie based on a lovely novel of the same name by Pulitzer prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.
For the first time in our decades-long movie going experience, we saw an audience (of mostly white women with a smattering of desis in this instance) spontaneously break out into applause at the end of a show.
It was a full house for our 4:50 PM show of The Namesake at the Paris theatre on West 58th Street in New York City on a cold Friday. And fans braved the New York winter chill to stand in a lengthy line for the 7.30 PM show as well.
Namesake’s main actors Irfan Khan, Tabu and Kal Penn deliver a sparkling performance. Yes, we loved them all and so did the others at the Paris theatre.
If pressed, we’d admit that we liked the Bollywood actor Irfan Khan best of all. We enjoyed watching him in the recent Hindi film Killer (a lift of the Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx starrer Collateral). Under a better director like Mira Nair, Irfan Khan does a far superior job.
Tabu is one of the few talented actresses in India (which produces several hundred films every year, most of them of very poor quality). Whether as the newly arrived Indian bride to New York City, wife of an engineer she’s barely seen before marriage but whom she comes to love dearly or mother of her two America-born children, Tabu is a sight to behold in Namesake.
Kal Penn – you’ve seen him earlier in Van Wilder 2:The Rise of Taj and Superman Returns – renders a fine performance as well.
Above all, we loved Namesake’s poignant story of two Bengali immigrants to the U.S. Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) and his wife Ashima (Tabu) and their two America born children Gogol (Kal Penn) and Sonia (Sahira Nair).
Like a lot of moving stories, Namesake is a story at multiple levels. And of different characters, although mainly of Ashoke, Ashima and Gogol.
Namesake rises above the typical immigrant story to celebrate the richness of life itself – love, betrayal, success, failure, separation, travel, racism, the bizarre, tragedy and comedy make forays in the movie.
Of course, it’s impossible to completely capture a fine book like The Namesake into a movie. Whether it’s Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, something is always lost in translation in the journey from book to movie.
Still Mira Nair has done a competent job in converting the book into movie format.
Mira Nair more than adequately conveys the essence of Bengalis, bustling chaotic Kolkata (the city from which both Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli hail) and the immigrant experience in the U.S.
While each immigrant experience in the U.S. is unique in its own way, yet there is a common thread to immigrants coming from a particular country, be it India, Italy, Poland, Somalia or Ireland.
As if the different nationalities aren’t complex enough, then there are the unique sub-cultures of immigrants from each country. For instance, Bengali immigrants are different from Gujaratis and Punjabis in the U.S. although all of them hail from the Indian sub-continent.
We suspect Namesake the movie will be enjoyed more by those who have read the novel rather than those who haven’t. The Indian culture not to mention its myriad sub-cultures is complex enough even for those who have lived in it that it seems unfair to expect an outsider to quickly grasp all its nuances in a short movie.
Besides provoking an interest in the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, Namesake has whetted our appetite for Mira Nair’s next movie – Shantaram (based on the fine book of the same name by the Australian author Gregory David Roberts).
N.B: Namesake director Mira Nair had approached that terrible Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan to do Kal Penn’s role. Fortunately for the audience, he declined. Kal Penn is any day an infinitely better actor than Abhishek Bachchan.