Thursday, September 14, 2006

Movie Review: The Namesake by Mira Nair

(Click on the poster to watch a trailer of "The Namesake")

Yesterday we had the privilege of attending the screening of Mira Nair's 'The Namesake" based on Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's book of the same name. Mira Nair, dressed in a gorgeous red silk "churidhar kurta" and a smart lime green jacket, addressed the audience of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) before the show, stating that she had always wanted to turn "The Namesake" into a movie because it gave her the chance to unite the two cities she grew up in, Calcutta and New York, turning them into one. I guess what she meant is that this story of belonging to two places at one time, could have been her story, too, as it could have been the story of countless other immigrants (myself included).

For the uninitiated, Jhumpa Lahiri's novel is the story of a Bengali couple from Calcutta (Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli) and how they set out as a young married couple for Cambridge in Massachusetts where they bring up their small family ( a son, Gogol and daughter, Sonya) with Indian values and customs that seem to clash constantly with the values of their adopted country.

The movie was screened at the historic and elegant Elgin and Winter Garden theatres and I was hooked (as I am sure the rest of the audience was too) right from the time the introductions rolled on the screen. I love the rustic, earthy backgrounds that Ms. Nair used to run the names of the stars and how the names were written first in a very attractive Bengali font and then artistically scrambled to give us the English names.

Tabu and Irrfaan Khan were very ably cast as Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli. I have seen them paired in the movie, Maqbool and even then I thought the chemistry between them was more beautiful, natural, tender and pure than any other screen pairing. Tabu was just amazing as Ashima Ganguly. The scenes of when she arrives in cold, grey New York (the book was set in Boston, but I guess New York's close enough) as a young, foreign and lonely bride and how she goes about trying to make a life for herself and her sweet, caring husband had me totally captivated. Ashima Ganguli was heart-wrenchingly homesick but she had the commonsense to realize that this was her destiny and she had to lead her life, no matter how difficult it was, with grace, gravitas and dignity, and Tabu played her to perfection.

Coming to Gogol, Ashima and Ashoke's American-born son, who finds himself torn between obeying the old-world traditions and pursuing his own ambitions/desires, I am not sure Kal Penn of "Harold and Kumar" fame was the right choice for Gogol. Personally I thought him rather old-looking for the role. I guess it's just as well that Nair chose to make Tabu's character (Ashima Ganguli) the focal point of the movie and tell the story from her perspective rather than use Gogol like the book did.


There oh so many beautiful moments in the film, too many to describe here, but let me assure you you will be mesmerized, moved and captivated with the simple and delicate way Mira Nair has potrayed the story of the Gangulis for the screen. She has the ability to capture those tiny moments when suddenly everything is illuminated - a smile, a grimace, a gesture, a blush, a fleeting furrowed brow. Like someone I know said, she creates sheer poetry on the screen.

Sooni Taraporewalla has written a wonderful screenplay rich with humour and yet, able to make you cry (and cry the audience did, there was a rare dry eye towards the end of the movie) to ably back up Nair's direction. The music was composed by Nitin Sawhney.

Although this is a movie on immigration and displacement made by a director who is an immigrant herself, the movie has universal appeal because, as Mira Nair has said,
this story encompasses the tale of millions of us who left one home for another, who have known what it is to continue the old ways with the new world, who have left the shadow of our parents to find ourselves for the first time

Some other not-to-be-missed Mira Nair movies are:

Monsoon Wedding

Salaam Bombay!

Mississippi Masala

Vanity Fair





36 comments:

Susan in Italy said...

Now I really want to see this film! These days I feel like I need some food for thought and support about living outside my home country. (And to see others feling that way in my country)

hellomelissa said...

if the movie's half as good an adaptation of the book as you say it is, then i am very excited! just have to wait for the american release. :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Susan Ahhhh, then this movie will be right up your alley. Another movie that touched a chord with me was the 1991 TIFF winner, an Algerian film, titled, "Incha Allah, Dimanche". A beautifully made film.


Hi, Melissa I know you loved the book and even though the movie stays faithful to the book in spirit, there are couple of changes. For instance, the movie is set in New York and the story is told from Gogol's mother's point of view. While I thought the book was good, I didn't think it was excellent. Friends of mine preferred the book to the movie - would love to see what you think. Unfortunately the international release is slated for March 2007. Quite a long time to wait, huh?

Les said...

I'm not Melissa, but I'll respond to your comment that waiting for the March 2007 date is a long time, but that gives me time to read the book which has been on my shelves for far too long. It has a comp sticker on it, which means I got it while working at Borders over 4 years ago! You might be able to answer a question, as I'm not too familiar with Mira Nair. She sounds familiar and I did see Monsoon Wedding. My question is this: Did she film a short "extra" feature that I might have viewed on the Monsoon Wedding dvd that shows her cooking in either her restaurant or with her mother somewhere? Or did I dream all of this?? ;)It was a wonderful little "documentary" if you will and I hadn't thought of it until reading your post.

paris parfait said...

I really like the book - didn't know it had been made into a movie. Wonder why they didn't use Boston? I look forward to seeing the film. Thanks for the review!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Les!

Thanks so much for writing in. I saw "Monsoon Wedding" on the big screen so I am not aware of a cooking documentary that she may have done with her mom. Tell you what, I will have to look it up and get back to you. She is such a talented woman and is so eager to bring her viewers glimpses from every field that I wouldn't be at all surprised if she has in fact done one such documentary. I'll let you know.



Hello Tara!

Good question - I think perhaps because Mira Nair lives in New York and also, the scenary is not that much different from Boston? So glad you enjoyed the book - do go see the movie when it comes to Paris.

booklogged said...

Lotus, how very exciting for you. My got goosebumps just thinking of your experience in that beautiful theater. Can't wait to see this myself, even though it will be in a small town's old, run down theater. I'm sure that in moments, the environment will melt away and I will move into the movie. Wondreful review.

booklogged said...

Just read the comments. We will have to wait clear until March?! UGH!

tanabata said...

Thanks for the review. I just watched the trailer and it looks great! No idea if/when it'll come to Japan so I'll probably just buy the DVD in what, a year's time! :P

Lotus Reads said...

Hey booklogged and Nat I know, such a pity about the delayed release. I remember reading that Mira Nair is also very disappointed with the release date. I don't know how these things work - who decides the date of a film's release? I guess waiting for it on DVD and then watching it in the comfort of your own home might be the best thing to do.

Saaleha said...

The movies dounds really promising. You know Lotus, sounds like you have a really great job. And you write great reviews. Thanks for the heads up

nomadica said...

Thanks for the review...I loved the book...am really looking forward to the film!

kimananda said...

I have been meaning to see Monsoon Wedding since it first came out...I have no idea why I haven't seen it yet, actually. Now, I see I'll have to add The Namesake to my to-see list of films. Thank you...I'm finding a lot of good suggestions on your blog! :-)

Lotus Reads said...

Awww, Saaleha thank you! I love contemporary world cinema and the TIFF is truly a movie buff's dream come true!

Hey Nomadica When you see it, you will have to let me what you think!

Hi, kimananda Thank you, glad I was able to help! :) I think you will love "Monsoon Wedding". I've seen it thrice already and it never fails to charm. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Bhaswati said...

Not reading your review. No, not reading. I am going to read this book soon, that's why. :)

Came here to tell you that you've been tagged. See this:

http://athomewriting.blogspot.com/2006/09/book-meme.html

Do play, Lotus!

Amin said...

Lotus, great link and the film trailer was great. I've seen Monsoon Wedding and this looks like it might be an even better film.

As an Anglo-Asian man (English mum, Bangladeshi dad) I find now, a decade after my father died, that I wish I'd learned more of his culture. It's not my culture at all - I was brought up totally English, but I find that there is a part of me which seeks to understand that heritage. My own children, to an English mother, sometimes ask me about things I can't tell them and they find it strange that I don't know. The sense of displacement of which you speak is one which I understand very well.

Good review. I shall add the book to my list of books to buy.

Ali said...

Loved your review, and felt the same way about the film. I have yet to write a review though, although I should have it up in the next couple of days.

The release date push made me that much more adamant to make the Toronto screening. I'm really afraid Fox Searchlight is destroying the film's rep by moving it around so much.

And les, that DVD feature on a director cooking in a restaurant is likely the one of Gurindher Chadha making Aloo Ghobi on the Bend it like Beckham (which is half the film Monsoon Wedding.)

Ali said...

* the Bend it like Beckham DVD is what I meant.

Saish_D_Confused said...

I really loved the novel, but didnt think the movie would turn out to be great, as u said.

Its always difficult for the director to consider all the intricacies of the novel and make a movie.

By the way, photography is fun and gives me an opportunity to be with myself and forget the rest of the world for a while. So keep trying.

Susan Abraham said...

Mira always looks gorgeous doesn't she. i enjoy everything she films.
love

Angela in Europe said...

You are so lucky! It sounds like a brillant film.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Bhaswati! Thanks for tagging me ( I guess), lol! I will do it, not sure when exactly, but I will. Thanks!


Hi, Amin How wonderful that your kids are showing an interest in their Bangladeshi heritage. Given your background, I understand how difficult it must be to try and tell them things about your father's homeland. If at all feasible you could try enrolling them in a couple of activities at a Bangladesh cultural center, they might enjoy the experience!


Hi Ali Nice of you to stop by. I've passed the info on to Les, thanks! Did you manage to see "Bella", the film that won the People's Choice Award? Wait, don't tell me, I'll visit your blog and find out! :)

Hi Satish, Lovely to see you here. I bought a new camera recently and after I've studied the literature, I hope to experiement a little. Wish me luck! :)


Hi Susan So happy you're back online and sooner than expected! Yup, Mira Nair is a wiz for sure and I just love the clothes she wears for her premiers. Elegance is her middle name.


Hi Angela Yes, I feel quite pleased to have seen 'The Namesake" Now I want to watch Sophie Coppola's "Marie Antoinette". I am sure it was your review that got me interested in viewing it.

Beloved dreamer said...

My dear, are you ok? I have not heard from you. I am having trouble posting again so who knows whats up on my poetry right now. Please stop by and let me know that you are well
love,M

Lotus Reads said...

Hello Beloved I'm right here! I even left a comment on your blog to welcome you back. Don't worry about the blog too much, it does the same to me. I am unable to see what everyone else is reading, in other words, I do not get to see what I have published unless I go to "Edit". Hope it's just a temporary glitch.

*love*

Simran said...

I can't wait for this movie to come out in the theaters here!!!!!!!!


Thanks for the review Lotus!

Mistress Regina said...

A friend posted this as well; it appears to be an interesting exercise.

Wondering, based on your introduction, what you may read other than books. I saw that you commented about stories you read in a blog.

Perhaps you will stop by to have a look at the work from our Writer's Consortium.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what font is used for the Poster?

literary safari said...

hi lotus - i just saw the namesake last week and was profoundly moved. i didn't expect it to be this good. i agree with your review! check out mine when you have a chance.

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iselldreams said...

just a very short comment:
This movie made me cry!