The Namesake – a comparision between the book and the movie
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.