The Namesake

 
Directed by: Mira Nair
Written by:Sooni Taraporevala
Starring: Ifran Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn, Sahira Nair, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson
Released: April 5, 2007
Grade: A

The Namesake begins in India in the late 1970s.  Ashoke Ganguli (Khan), a man in his mid-twenties, talks to an elderly gentleman on a train.  He his told that he shouldn’t use books to learn about the world – he needs to travel and see it for himself.  At that moment, the train derails and most of the passengers are killed.  Ashoke survives.

Thinking it is an omen, Ashoke travels to New York and finds a successful job.  The United States provides far more opportunities than those available to him back home.  The only thing left to do is to find a wife.  After spending two years aboard, he returns home so that his parents can find him a suitable bride.

He marries Ashima (Tabu) and the two return to New York.  It’s a difficult transition for Ashima as she is leaving her family behind and speaks very little English.  Her quiet nature makes it even more difficult for her to make new friends and settle in.

The film gradually pans into the future.  Ashoke and Ashima have two children, a boy named Gogol (Penn) and a daughter named Sonia (Nair).  As they graduate from high school and make their own way into the world, Ashoke and Ashima have trouble letting go.  They love their children deeply and will miss their company at home.  They also worry that their children have become “Americanized” and won’t respect their Indian heritage.

The Namesake is a simply story which has been beautifully presented by Indian born director Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding).  Through her lens, Nair has captured the culture of both India and the United States.  They are different in many ways but the emotions that come with belonging to a family are the same.

The film provides moments of happiness and sadness.  Such is life and a large percentage of audience members will be able to relate to elements of the story.  The screenplay, written by Sooni Taraporevala, is based on the popular novel by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I haven’t read Lahiri’s book but I’d very much like to after having seen this movie.

The touching story is enhanced thanks to the quality of the cast.  As the two parents, Irfan Khan and Tabu are fantastic.  Their performances aren’t “flashy” but they are very effective.  You can always sense the apprehensions and insecurities in their characters.  For those looking for name recognition, two cast members you may know are Kal Penn (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) who plays Gogol and Australian Jacinda Barrett (Poseidon) who features briefly as his girlfriend.

I knew very little about The Namesake before seeing it and perhaps this is why I liked it so much.  It was a very enjoyable surprise.  I won’t build it up any further in the hope that you too will enjoy it as much as I did.