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The Namesake – a comparision between the book and the movie

April 21, 2007

This book by Jhumpa Lahiri was published some years ago but I read it recently, when the movie was released. A lot of reviews have been written on this book and on the movie too, but this review is different – it is a comparision between the book and the movie.

To start with, the book is fantastic. The movie is not. I have written a separate review on the movie on this same blog.

The book is well written, clear, evocative and brings out the conflict between the eastern and western cultures with brilliance and simplicity. Its basically about the identity crises that a confused American desi suffers …the conflict arises because of his double identity …as Gogol Ganguli, the Bengali boy and son of immigrant parents (an identity which he is slightly ashamed of) and the western one, his American avatar Nikhil, shortened to Nick. This is what Jhumpa Lahiri brings to life in the book. We suffer with Gogol…Nick. Even if you have never experienced this kind of identity crises, the author explains it so poignantly, through various incidents, that we have no trouble identifying with Gogol.

The story is in fact about this boy Gogol, the namesake of an eccentric Russian author. Gogol truggles to throw off the shackles of the name and what it implies…his Indianness, as Gogol is his father’s favorite author. Gogol’s rebellion becomes evident when he leaves home…with his various affairs for example and a disinclination to come home. He even starts to live with his white girlfriend who lives with her parents, and admires the western way of living. It is only when his father dies that he changes, and regrets the way he has behaved. It’s very believable, the change in Gogol…how the shock of his father’s death brings him back to his roots.

In the movie it’s the relationship between Gogol’s parents, Ashima and Ashoke, that makes greater impact. Ashima’s difficulty in adjusting (the movie opens with this), her loneliness and the growing love between husband and wife. It is very moving. Maybe it was because of the power of the actors (Tabu who plays Ashima and Irfan Khan who plays Ashoke) that these two characters make such an impact. But I also think that Mira Nair diverted from the book. For example, the movie does not show Gogol living with his girl friend’s parents (just shows him spending a few days there)…but this incident is what tells us how completely Gogol has rejected his Indian identity. He prefers her parents to his. By Indian standards, a boy living with the girl’s parents is mildly shocking. Even when Gogol is shown breaking up with his girl-friend, it seems sudden, in explicable. You can’t leave a relationship of several years because your girl friend makes a few insensitive remarks!

In the book it’s clear why Gogol leaves her. Its his realisation that his girlfriend is not really interested in his Indianness (this has been shown subtly before), and the fact that she wants him to be completely American…and can only grudgingly accept the differentness of his parents. But when he realises that at heart he is actually Gogol, not Nick, that is when he decides to break up. He needs to find someone who understands Gogol. He does, but this doesn’t work out. Again, in the book, we understand why his wife (an American born Bengali girl, as confused as him) falls in love with another man. Her being torn apart…trying to be a good Bengali wife by sacrificing a life and career in Paris. In the book this comes through very well. Not in the movie. Infidelity seems to be the main cause..the movie was simply unable to bring out the complexity of the novel. Maybe all movies cannot do justice to the book from which they are made, and in my opinion, this movie is one of them. Though in itself the movie is worth a watch. Its a piece of art, and has some brilliant scenes. The only problem is that it pales in comparision to the book.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Padmini permalink
    April 24, 2007 4:41 am

    The Namesake is a very well-written book that brings home the differences between our Indian culture and the culture of the West in a very evocative way. Jhumpa Lahiri expresses the thoughts and feelings of the first generation settlers as well as their American born kids in such a seamless manner that it seems like it’s almost happening in our own houses. To me and other first generation parents, the events and relationships which unfold in the book so beautifully and poignantly, hit home and linger for a long long time.Almost like a beautiful raaga that haunts you and re-appears out of nowhere at odd times.The book is very relevant to today’s world and appeals to our children who are born and brought up in the US and are struggling to find their roots in their own different ways. As for the movie, I am yet to see it except for some tantalizing sneak previews featuring Tabu and Irfan Khan who seem to fit into their roles so naturally.

  2. April 24, 2007 1:54 pm

    I have bought the book and yet to begin reading. :-)

  3. Nika permalink
    April 29, 2007 1:22 pm

    I’ve never read the book but I loved the flim. Being UK second-generation Bengalis my friends and I related very much to the film – it brought a lump to our throats! I relate to almost everything – my parents’ struggle in a new country, Gogol and his way of thinking, and confusion, relationships with Asians and non-Asians… hell I even liked Pearl Jam too!

    It was an excellent film – and now I’m going to buy the book too.

    • subrata kumar das permalink
      May 7, 2012 9:23 am

      I also think so ma’am, movie is more diasporic than text…viua its visual medium…….

  4. October 19, 2007 10:34 pm

    I read this book, and haven’t yet seen the movie. It’s interesting to hear your point of view on such matters as how an Indian audience would view the idea of Gogol living with his girlfriend’s parents.

    I was sad when Gogol and his wife broke up. I wondered what would become of him. It would be tough for him to go to India to look for a bride, since he wasn’t 100% Indian either. He ended up secure in himself, but I’d still like to find a nice girl for him. :)

  5. October 20, 2007 7:08 am

    Thanks Christine! you get involved in books and their stories, just like I do. :) As for Gogol, I think he is doomed to a lonely life…he is a misfit, at least that is how I see it although they show him coming to some sort of peace at the end. Indians who are brought up on traditional values usually end up ABCDs (American born confused desis) as they are called.

  6. Sarah permalink
    December 17, 2008 8:14 am

    Simply put.. I just finished reading this book and instantly fell in love with it! I was extremely excited to see the movie but was more than disappointed after watching it. I had such high expectations because of how satisfying the novel was. I can’t be completely negative however, I agree that it is impossible to channel such a wonderfully complex book equally as well into a movie. Each relationship and event in the book is so intricate, if the movie were to depict it all, it would be unbearably long. So, considering the factors, the movie wasn’t that bad. But overall, the book beats it by far.

  7. subrata kumar das permalink
    May 7, 2012 9:21 am

    U hv said that text is about Gogol’s odyssey 4 identity..but movie is 4 human relation..do u nt think that human relationship is the another theme of the novel? even Gogol’s dual identity is presented in relation to his family, to his friens, to his GF…i did nt agree with ur points here………..

  8. Dayana permalink
    December 5, 2012 8:22 pm

    Even though I was not born in American nor am I Indian this book hit home. I was brought into this country when I was 2 years old and have faced many similarities with Gogol. I feel too American to be Costa Rican and too Costa Rican to be American. I feel I am a woman without a country. More so I feel torn with everything I do. Also, I feel I will never find someone like me. I believe this is a great book, it made me realize there are a lot of people out there going through similar problems I encounter.

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