Sunday, April 29, 2007


The Namesake - Movie Review

"The reader should realize himself that it could not have happened otherwise, and that to give him any other name was quite out of the question."- Nikolai Gogol

The Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's short story "The Overcoat" was a masterpiece. Jhumpa Lahiri's book "The Namesake" whose protagonist is named after Gogol is among the best works by an Indian in the recent past. Without prevarication, yet with a language that is clear, Lahiri visits the world of Bengali immigrants in America, about the identity crisis existing and about the lead charactor's dilemma in coping with an odd name like Gogol.

The Namesake - the movie version of the book by Mira Nair is effervescent, brilliant in pieces, interspersed with subtle humor and is very real. The lead actors are very good, the passage of the times of Nikhil Ganguly from child to adult, the shifting of the locales back and forth between New York and Calcutta is handled adroitly.

However, this is definitely not Mira Nair's best effort. If the main rationale behind the making of the film is to depict how the characters played by Tabu and Irfan Khan have to cope with their dour lives far away from home then it succeeds to a large extent. If the intention is to invoke empathy for Gogol Ganguly (played by Kal Penn) for his name, the movie fails. Probably the two important passages of the book is firstly when Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) explains to Gogol Ganguly, the real reasons for naming him Gogol and secondly when Gogol finds the book on the Russian writer which his father had presented to him many years earlier. In the movie version, these two episodes are played down in that they do not register to the viewer in the right significance and also do not linger on when you leave the movie hall. The screenplay goes hand in hand with the book so much so that there is a need to cram everything in and this is precisely where the movie falters and the essence of the book is lost.

All said and done, the film offers some great cinematic moments , Ashima's (Tabu) fascination for Ashoke's shoes during the initial moments and Gangulis and friends replicating their Bengali culture in the US being some of them. And a special mention for one actor who stands out among the good ensemble and thats Irfan Khan who simply rocks.

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