The Namesake

I haven't read this so wonderful book by Jhumpa Lahiri so fortunately will not be influenced or be comparing the movie to the book. Got to watch this movie early Sunday.

First of all, this movie is not your typical 'entertainer'. The movie is absolutely delightful since it tells a story and tells it well with great direction and great performances.

The movie is directed by Mira Nair of Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding fame and stars Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn (Kalpen Suresh Modi actually), Jacinda Barrett and others.

To me the movie was a tale of identity, culture, roots, human relationships and discovery. Yeah, I know a lot of movies are all these and more but whats special about this movie is it is so Indian and any expatriate, repatriate or NRI will surely relate to this story.

The story begins with Ashok Ganguli (Irrfan Khan in a brilliant & controlled performance as a Bengali away in the US ) coming to see his prospective bride- Ashima (Tabu, in her most classy performance). The scene is something that one would normally scoff at as cliche spoof where the bride-to-be sings for the prospective groom, but Mira handles this and many other sequences with absolute panache giving it a lot of respectability and quite amusement. Ashok marries Ashima and takes her to the US where Ashima has her experience of life so different from India. Life goes on, they settle in and have a son and unlike in Bengal where they name children officially with a name and then a Good Name, the hospital administrator informs them that they have to choose a name. Ashok having liked the author Nikolai Gogol names his son Gogol and so Gogol Ganguli the main character of the tale comes to being.

Gogol and his sister grow up with a mixture of Indian and American experiences. Their visit to Kolkata when in their late teens is a treat to watch. You can almost feel the air of Kolkata, smell the aromas of the food and see the wonderful city. There are many interesting sequences and characters who make you chuckle such as the fat manservant who is asked to chase Gogol while he jogs. The ugly duckling who goes to Paris and comes back so fine and hot. The reluctance of Gogol to meet her and then after meeting the new-looking woman, his eagerness to meet again is so understandable and amusing.

Amidst these light hearted moments is interwoven the story of Gogol who has taken the good name Nikhil (conveniently shortened to Nick for his American friends), gotten an American girlfriend and is almost embarrassed about his real name and roots.

His father Ashok is a constant figure of support and understanding and balance, who is able to transcend between worlds with ease while remaining a pillar of support for Ashima. Ashima is the typical Indian mother who with resilience, warmth and strength tries to hold together her family which appears to be slowly breaking down and drifting apart.

Kal Penn lends credibility to the role of Gogol, being one of the well recognized Asian faces in Hollywood and bringing in a lot of intensity and honesty to the screen. His journey through teenage to adulthood, losing himself and rediscovering himself with the words of his father ringing in his years, the tale of why he was named Gogol is like watching an autobiography in motion.

I do not wish to give away too much of the story and what happens but let me tell you that this is one story that imitates life, there are moments of joy, amusement and happiness. There are also moments of pain, suffering and despair but life goes on as long as you know who you are, what your family means and you know where your roots.


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