The Namesake

The Namesake

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

1974; a crowded train in India. Ashoke (Irfan Khan) is on his way to visit his father. He is bothered for conversation by an older man who tries to persuade him of the importance of travel, of seing the world. Ashoke, wanting to get back to his Gogol, recounts his father's advice that books provide the opportunity to see the world without moving an inch. Then the train crashes, and Ashoke's world is changed in ways he never expected.

Three years later and Ashoke is living in New York City with his young wife Ashima (Tabu). The doctors, confused by their cultural traditions, tell them they can't take their new son home from the hospital until he has a name, so they decide to call him Gogol for the meantime. Mira Nair's vibrant drama follows the family over the next 25 years as Gogol (Kal Penn) grows up and comes to terms with the legacy attached to this name. It also explores themes of names and identity in general, and what that means for the adults coming to terms with life in a foreign country and the children coming to terms with the foreignness of their parents.

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Like all Nair's work, The Namesake is beautifully shot against richly detailed backgrounds. The American landscapes are every bit as evocative as the Indian ones, but are initially approached in a distanced way which helps us to identify with the sense of alienation and loneliness experienced by Ashima.

It's a refreshingly bold approach to a familiar culture clash, and though the latter part of the film focuses on the younger generation and their pursuit of American lifestyles which conflict with Bengali traditions, it neatly sidesteps most of the usual cliches, always putting characters first and letting issues take a back seat. This gives it a sense of realism and warmth too often lacking from similar dramas. There is real chemistry between the actors involved, creating a strong sense that this is a family whose members care about each other and whom it is therefore worthwhile for the audience to care about.

Despite Ashima's depression and Ashoke's shyness, despite the blunty portrayed youthful awkwardness experienced by Gogol, they are all likable and engaging, drawing the viewer in through a series of tragedies intercut with gentle comedy, making an intensely positive statement about family and the possibilities inherent in merging traditional and modern life. This is a film which will have particular appeal to those from similar backgrounds but which has something to offer for everyone.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2007
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A Bengali family in America attempt to bridge the divides between cultures and generations.
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Jennie Kermode ****1/2

Director: Mira Nair

Writer: Sooni Taraporevala, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri

Starring: Irfan Khan, Tabu, Kal Penn, Zuleikha Robinson, Jacinda Barrett, Sahira Nair

Year: 2006

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: India, US

Festivals:

London 2006

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