Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review of 'Namesake'

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.

Nikhil Pednekar


Entropy said...

Have not seen the movie but after having read the book, do not feel tempted to watch the movie either. Namesake is yet another story on being an immigrant abroad. Feeling alien in a strange land and then growing to accept it, the strange husband-wife relationship shared by our parent’s generation where you got married and then fell in love, the alienation between parents and children – these are stories which you have heard a hundred times before. You keep waiting for the author to add new perspectives but till the end I could see none (perhaps I missed it during the times I fell asleep trying to read the book). The only interesting part was Gogol a.k.a Nikhil’s marriage where you could get a glimpse of how ABCDs straddle two cultures. On the whole, I think the only reason I ended up reading the book is because I am Indian, have a propensity to read Indian authors and this book has been promoted endlessly. But atleast this book snapped me out of this tendency to spend valuable time on yet another average Indian author and miss out on other better and more deserving authors.

Anita B.

Entropy said...

I just loved the book. Dunno about the lack of new perspectives, but having lived in lots of cities where I felt alien initially, I could totally identify with the way Ashima felt sometimes.
Must admit I was not quite that thrilled with Gogol though, thought the initial part of the book was far superior to the latter.


kbpm said...

ha! there goes another movie I dont need to watch! I did think the book itself was Blah the first time i read it, in fact, it did seem like it would be better off as a movie than a book. but if Mira Nair cant make it happen, I suppose its not happening. I remember I read it the first time because of its reference to Cambridge and Massachusetts. I read it again last week (cause someone mistakenly gave it to me, making it the second copy i own :-(), felt OK initially but overall did not like it much. Prizes in literature, just like Miss World etc., are over-rated for sure.

Entropy said...

Was checking out greatbong's site and he has posted a review of 'namesake' that is amazingly similar to what i think about the movie (although i would not be able to express it half as well).
follow the link if interested :
Funnily enough, much of what greatbong has to say applies equally to the movie as well as to the book.
Happy reading,

Entropy said...

yup, my thoughts too. as an aside: i read "the interpreter of maladies" (same author, dealing with many of the same themes) many years ago and i remember wondering what the fuss was about. i re-read it a few months ago and was struck by the insightfulness of its observations. obviously, the fact that i had lived in the us for a few years in the interim made the big difference.

Entropy said...

probably. i read 'namesake' while i was in cal and was missing bombay like hell, so i totally loved the way the book deals with being in an alien place and missing home (ironically, it is calcutta that ashima misses so much in the u.s.). though jhumpa lahiri described those emotions beautifully.