Movie Review: Namesake

Title: Namesake

Starring: Kal Penn, Tabu, Irfan Khan
Language: English
Director: Mira Nair

Not having read the book (Pultizer prize winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri with the same name), I went into see this movie with absolutely no preconceived expectations about the movie. It is one more of those “crossover” films where Bollywood stars share the screen with Western actors.

The movie is set partly in Kolkata and the rest in New York (NY). The story revolves around an immigrant family from India living in NY. The young man, Ashoke (played by Irfan) comes to the US as a student and returns to India to have an arranged wedding (something many NRIs can relate to quite easily). Then, he lives with his wife in NY and has two kids, a boy and girl. The boy, named Gogol (after his Dad’s favorite Russian author) is the central character in the film. Kal Penn does a remarkable job as Gogol playing the role of a second generation Indian kid growing up in America. Bollywood stars, Irfan and Tabu as the couple deliver creditable performances.

The Director deserves credit for the manner in which several scenes, particularly the emotional ones, are handled. These scenes are captured very tactfully with subtle facial expressions and minimal dialogues. The parents have been portrayed as being traditional, at the same time, the Director has done a fine job of not overdoing it like most other cross-over films. Overall Namesake is a well-made, and watchable film. If you are a desi immigrant in the US, this movie won’t disappoint you.

And now here are a few complaints about the film. When Irfan’s character, Ashoke, temporarily moves to Ohio from NY, it is not clear why his wife chose not to move with him. For a traditional Indian housewife, it made little sense not to follow her husband especially since her kids were no longer living with them. It might have been a little bit more believable, if he was moving a great distance, to say Australia or some place in Europe.

Mira Nair appears to have succumbed to the temptation to add needless “masala” by introducing a partial nude scene. There was no need for it in the film whatsoever. Likewise there was a brief Hindi song with Gogol and Moushimi. This was neither funny nor did it seem to serve any purpose in the story.

The scene where Gogol tells his Mom that he was separating from Moushimi, could have been better handled. In reacting to the news, the Mom simply accepted it and blamed herself for it! She did little to offer to help. This I thought was very unusual especially for first generation immigrants from India.

The photography (by Fredrick Elmes) in the film is nothing to write home about. Of late, Bollywood films have come a long way with regard to the quality of its photography. Films by Mani Ratnam, K. Shankar, and Ram Gopal Verma, in particular, tend to stand out in this regard. Considering the availability of excellent desi talent, Mira Nair might have been better off tapping “off-shore” resources for this part of the project! 🙂

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