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.
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: