The namesake, despite its name, is really about Ashima Ganguly's life. She is a simple bengali girl well versed in Wordsworth. She has a thing for shoes that ends up transplanting her from her cosy traditional bengali existence into the cold dull New England winters where she begins life anew with bhel made out of rice crispies and chilly powder and masala peanuts.
The movie chronicles her falling in love with her husband, the birth and growing up of her children. Things keep changing around her as she slowly but confidently adapts herself to stay in sync with things around her and yet seems to be the one unchanging constant in the movie.
Her family leads a largely happy uneventful life; she, a librarian, husband a prof, and with the kids in fact being comfortably American. Especially the son Gogol, who, seems to fit in better with his white girlfriend's all - american family and their affluent ways than with his own family. He greatest peeve though, is his parents’ incomprehensible choice of naming him after a tragic, eccentric Russian author Nikolai Gogol; he legally changes it to something more manageable.
A sudden tragedy however pulls the family together, and sends Gogol, now Nikhil, on a path that makes him yearn for his roots and causes him to take on a more Indian identity. Ashima helps her family and herself pick up the pieces and they begin to move on.
Nikhil marries a bengali girl suggested by his mother (or Ashima, either is fine), the daughter finds herself a non-indian boy, who mom is ok with becus times are-a-changing. Slowly as things fall in place again, Ashima feels she has fully discharged her "duty" as wife and mother, and decides finally to do something for herself: Go back to India, and follow her dream of learning music, 'if, a guru would have a 45 yr old as a student'.
However, as is often the case, the movie is "not a patch", as a friend put it, on the book. and I am not a member of the 'books ARE always sooo much better than the movies' mafia.
Ashima actually represents the ideal (not typical) immigrant experience, somebody who is comfortable with their own identity, and yet appreciative of the new things that a new world has to offer. With its repeated references to Nikolai Gogol's overcoat as being the source that we all come out of, the book drives home the point why a sense of identity is important to individuals as a source of strength and any attempt at questioning or undermining this identity can lead to turmoil.
The director doesn't take any chances in making the movie. It would have been far more interesting to see it as a series of flashbacks from the mom's and/or the son's point of view, rather than a series of episodic capsules of an unfolding story. Some of the more moving scenes are watered down, not giving you enough time to empathize with any of the characters. The story feeds on sentiments, but the background musical score was terrible, and did nothing to draw the viewer in. Also both Irrfan Khan andTabu weren't convincing either as the clumsy 20 yr olds or the 45 yr old parents of strangers. The attention to detail was sketchy, footage of calcutta trams had ATM adverts.
The movie is worth a watch, but don't miss it's original namesake.