Last night I feasted on the richness, simplicity, and tranquillity of The Namesake; Mira Nair’s latest cinematic instalment. In stark contrast to the melodrama of Monsoon Wedding and the uncompromising realism of Salaam Bombay, The Namesake features simple characters, a simple storyline, and honesty; raw honesty.
The plot centres on a newly-married Bengali couple from
Calcutta who settle in . Away from their family, their community, and their nurturing land, Ashok (Irfan Khan) and Ashima Ganguli (Tabu) make a family for themselves: a son named Gogol and a daughter. Gogol is not the sexiest of names, but it holds a special place in Ashok’s heart. The name 'Gogol' emanates from Ashok’s favourite author, Russian writer Nikolay Gogol, and, more significantly, to Ashok’s near-death experience as a young man. New York City
Nair does not do the audience any favours. She does not spoon-feed symbolism, and she certainly does not provide for the most theatrical and whimsical of endings. Nair is true and respectful to the experiences of immigrants, to the identities of Bengalis, and to the humanhood of persons. On a technical note, the Bengali accent and refined Bengali culture of literature and academia are superbly showcased.
Ashok, Ashima, and Gogol are presented in perfect harmony with one another. None of these characters emerges as the clear protagonist and yet, they each leave an indelible mark on the mind and soul. As Ashok, Irfan Khan’s performance is stellar. Ashok is as simple as he is complicated, and as touching as he is tragic. As an aging Ashima, Tabu is raw, enchanting, and even sexy. Kal Penn’s performance of Gogol is true to the self-hating attitude of second-generation immigrants, but his inexperience comes through in his few scenes of extreme anger and remorse.
My favourite scenes/happenings and why:
1. Tabu fashions Irfan’s loafers. Kya simplicity, yaar! She is so enchanted by the ‘Made in
’ label. Ishh! USA
2. The Gangulis’ visit to the Taj Mahal features unconventional angles of this famed world wonder. The awe and greatness of the Taj comes across more from the family’s reaction than the structure, itself! Nair is one of the few public eyes that have done the Taj a comprehensive aesthetic justice.
3. Tabu rediscovers her identity. Her nest is not half empty; it is half full.
*image courtesy of