The Namesake movie Review
The film is based on a novel of the same name. The novel is by Jhumpa Lahiri, whose short story collection had won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. The movie? Well, it is Hollywood movie with a Bollywood feel. Not just because it is directed by a woman of Indian origin, but also because the film (which is in English), tells the story about an Indian Bengali family who migrates to the US. Nothing dramatic happens, and the crises are normal family crises. So what is so special about the movie? Well, as Mira Nair unfolds the saga of the Ganguli family over two generations, she brilliantly brings out the clash of cultures between the east and west.
The movie is about relationships – the relationship between husband and wife, brother and sister, child and parent, and its amazing that Mira Nair understands the deep bonds that Indian families share. She shows how love develops between husband and wife although when they marry they are strangers. A love which they never show to anyone else, or even to themselves…in fact what Nair reveals through her cinema is so profound that it moves one to tears. And she makes the viewer laugh too, just by showing normal family banter. The fact that she can make the viewer laugh and cry with her characters, and that too just by the telling of a simple story reveals her brilliance.
The movie moves slowly lovingly over each scene and the scenes are amazingly true to life. Whether its a scene on a Kolkata street, or one in the United States, the ambience, the atmosphere, the scent of the people, everything is brought out so vividly…so perfectly. There are no words for it all really. Its like seeing life unfold before you…only more vividly. Awesome cinema.
The performances of Irfan Khan and Tabu (who play husband and wife) remain with you long after the movie is over. Brilliantly understated performances that convey a wide range of emotions – Tabu plays the role of the shy housewife who finds her wings and Irfan, a professor who is obsessed with a Russian author – Gogol, so obsessed in fact that he names his son after him (That is why the movie is called Namesake). Kal Penn plays Gogol and frankly I didn’t like him in the film. I found his acting average. I guess he paled in comparision to Tabu and Irfan Khan.
The sex scenes make the film stand apart from a Bollywood movie. They were done tastefully and naturally. And they were there.
I wished Mira Nair had revealed the different side of Kolkata too however. The only thing we see is Kolkata’s seamy side, the poverty, the grime, and human misery complete with rickshaws being pulled by human beings. This has now been banned in Kolkata, but then ofcourse the story took place in the seventies and the rickshaws were very much there then. But Kolkata has its bright side and she could have shown the protagonist (who is from a lower middle class family) yearn for a better life by seeing the bright side of Kolkata…I don’t know. I am not a film maker and don’t know whether this was possible without veering away from the novel. I just felt that the film reinforces the stereotypical image of Kolkata as a seamy city. There was a sight seeing tour of the Taj Mahal and this seemed artificial, as if the director was telling the viewer something – and it was not her characters experiencing it.
I didn’t like this movie as much as I liked Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. But I guess the subject was such. There is a gloomy feel to the movie and the end is depressing, although not tragic.
Anyone looking for action will be disappointed. The first half of the movie is slow and one wonders whether it is getting anywhere. The pace picks up in the second half, but again, not too much. There are no songs and no sexy dances. No story as such. Definitely not a movie for the mainstream audience. This is not a movie which falls into my favorite genre, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The movie is a piece of art.
Related Reading: A comparision between the book and the movie