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The Namesake

Irfan Khan
as Ashoke Ganguli

Kal Penn
as Gogol Ganguli

as Ashima A. Ganguli

Jacinda Barrett
as Maxine 'Max' Ratliff

Zuleikha Robinson
as Moushumi Mazumdar

Sahira Nair
as Sonia Ganguli

Written by Sooni Taraporevala

Directed by Mira Nair

Running Time: 2:02

Rated PG-13
for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use,
some disturbing images and brief language.



The Namesake was a well made, well acted film that really hit home for me.


Ashoke and Ashima are married very young and leave India for New York. Ashoke has a job and understands how life in America works, but for Ashima, this is a complete learning experience. She's been taken away from the life she had to live with a man she barely knows. But what starts off as wonderment and indifference turns slowly into love, and they soon have a child named Gogol. Growing up in America, Gogol doesn't have an understanding of what it took for his parents to move to the United States, and at first he rebels against him upbringing. He is more interested in making a name for himself than respecting his heritage. He falls in love with an American named Maxine. But after hearing his parent's stories, Gogol starts to realize that where you come from is as important as where you are going.


The Namesake took on a slightly different meaning to me, since a lot of it mirrors the tale of my life, along with my parents. My parents were also married young while my father had a job here, and my mother had to move halfway around the world. A couple of years later I showed up, and for most of my life, I wasn't interested in the 'Indian' thing. I was an American through and through. But as time went on and I got older, I realized that being Indian is part of who I was and I needed to embrace it rather than rebel against it. Watching the movie, most Indian parents I talked to said they knew exactly what Ashoke and Ashima were going through and it made them cry. Watching the movie, I knew exactly what Gogol was going through. Growing up in a country where people with funny names are generally laughed at isn't easy, and it makes fitting in rather hard. As much as you want to love and respect your parents, their insistence on keeping ties to their homeland makes it harder to fit in with your friends.

I found the performances to be extremely uplifting. Irfan Khan was quiet throughout and you could see the anguish in his face. There was so much he wanted for his family but he wasn't always sure how to get it. Tabu as Ashima was wonderful. Her fear was evident as she came to America, and her assimilation into society was a slow and sometimes painful one. She also wanted the best for her family but was never quite sure how to go about it. Kal Penn, known more for his comedic roles, was a revelation as Gogol. Penn wasn't the first person you'd think of for this kind of role, but I imagine his upbringing enabled him to bring a lot to the character. They all worked well as a family and I felt at times like I was watching my own. The movie has a very warm, welcoming quality to it. Director Mira Nair brings you into a world she knows very well and makes you feel like you're a part of it. Watching as the characters evolved and learned about themselves, and unfortunately learning more through tragedy than anything else, was a joy. There are times in the movie where it starts to get away. When Gogol meets the Indian woman his parents want him to marry, their relationship didn't feel as real as his did with Maxine, the American woman. It felt almost as if they wanted to show that all Indian women aren't subserviant to their husband and can have the same faults as anyone else. But it felt forced and out of place with the rest of the film.


This is one of those movies that works well on DVD. I enjoyed watching it from the comfort of my couch. There are a bunch of extras, some worthwhile, some not. The deleted scenes were completely unnecessary. It was like they were there just so they could say, hey, we've got deleted scenes. There was a documentary with Mira Nair as she taught a class at Columbia. It was interesting because it was almost like an interview with her, but instead she was able to talk about whatever she wanted to. She also brought in, over the course of four weeks, other people associated with the film to talk about the production. The other extra I enjoyed was an interview with Kal Penn, where he discusses the similarities he has to the character.


So overall, I really enjoyed The Namesake. From my perspective, it was something that my parents and I lived through and it was interesting to see someone else's view of the same story. But I think for anyone whose parents came to this country not knowing what was in store, and who had to grow up straddling the line between American and non-American, will find this a very moving film.

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The Namesake - A Novel

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DVD reviewed 11/26/07

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