Film review: The Namesake

The Namesake
Fox Searchlight Pictures, Mirabai Films

STARRING Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Kal Penn, Zuleikha Robinson, Jacinda Barrett, Sahira Nair, Ruma Guha Thakurta, Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Supriya Devi
WRITTEN BY Sooni Taraporevala (screenplay), adapted from the novel The Nakesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

SHOT BY Frederick Elmes
EDITED BY Allyson C. Johnson
MUSIC BY Nitin Sawhney
DISTRIBUTED BY Fox Searchlight Pictures, Mirabai Films

Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on 2006-09-02
Screened on 2007-02-07

After an arranged marriage in Calcutta, business beckons Ashima and Ashoke to New York City.  The couple begets a son, Gogol (Kal Penn), and the film follows his process of achieving identity that incorporates tradition and modernity.  American and Indian émigré families are juxtaposed frequently without much bias as Gogol tastes the fruits of both on his trip to becoming a successful architect.  The Namesake earnestly portrays the émigré experience from both sides of the spectrum, told through artists who lived it (writer Jhumpa Lahiri and director Mira Nair – Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair).

If the film suffers from anything, it’s simply the specified nature of its story – the Indian experience in America – and I suppose it certainly doesn’t suffer from it.  But I, a traditionless, Godless white boy from Wisconsin who’s already thought those thoughts and seen similar stories – well, to me it was what it was.  I was neither disappointed nor impressed, although it did provoke a lengthy discussion with my Indian roommate whose situation was conveniently akin to young Gogol’s.  She had read the book, recommended seeing the film, enjoyed it, and recommends it to others.  She is the target audience.  Others who would enjoy the film include young ethnic Americans leaving a comfortable world and entering a larger one (i.e. high school to college), especially given the rudimentary nature of the advice offered by the film: “Embrace the new, don’t forget the old,” and the Ozu-esque notion of learning to appreciate one’s parents…primarily post-adolescent catharses, and really, advice that is practically inherent already to sane, mildly intelligent humans.  Penn represents the growing population of Indian-Americans who are beginning to achieve a cultural identity, and as American culture might just be represented by its films, The Namesake may just be a perfectly fitting expression of an Indian in America.

written by David Ashley