Monday, March 26, 2007

The Namesake

I was a little apprehensive about watching it thinking it would just be another middlebrow and eager to please and satisfy movies about Indian immigrant experiences. I haven't read the Jhumpa Lahiri book either thinking the same thing. In a way the film is indeed nothing but predictable and tells you nothing that you don't already know but it is not boring and is even moving at places, mainly because of the acting of Tabu and Irfan Khan. It was also a wise decision on the part of writer/director to keep the parents at the centre of the narrative, thus saving us from all the cliche-mongering about cultural confusion and identity crisis.

In fact towards the end I was paying more attention to the books than the characters and I found some glaring anachronisms। Okay, not so glaring ones! The new Pevear-Volkhonsky translation of Collected Tales of Gogol which is featured prominently in the film wasn't even published in 1995, that's when Ashoke gifts the book to his son. Even after that he says that it took more than four months for the book to arrive after ordering! Who is he kidding? Or perhaps it was supposed to show the emotional blackmailing going on between the father and the son. Another book, Reading Chekhov by Janet Malcolm was likewise only published in 2001, years after Ashima gifts the book to her husband! In one other scene Ashoke is reading Crime and Punishment (this I am not sure) and that is, thank God, an old penguin classics edition. Also the bohemian Bengali beauty (with a phd in french literature!) reads Stendhal's obscure novel Armance. (Any film which namechecks two of my favourite writers, Gogol and Stendhal, deserves some praise!) There is also Bonjour Tristesse mentioned somewhere earlier. I have to now read these two novels.

Also I found it surprising that someone could remain so unassimilated even after living for such a long time in America. Why is Tabu always wearing a Sari throughout, at home, outside everywhere even on a picnic? The same with those colourful Kurtas that Irfan Khan wears. The film is set mostly in the eighties, when the cultural shock must have been greater than now, but even then I think it was an artificial choice only meant to create an effect. I don't want to complain much because she is very nice in the film. Overall a nice film, I was feeling a little homesick myself after watching it.


bhupinder said...

Nice to see your eye for detail in the titles..though I'd say that it is artistic freedom- after all it is fiction, and not a documentary.

Alok said...

yes that is true, I agree. I wasn't judging its artistic merits based on that.. just that it didn't capture my attention too much and not all the while.

Szerelem said... do have a fine eye for deatil!!
Waiting to see this one....I've heard only good things.

Swathi said...

well, the book was terribly overhyped I thought and while the protagonist in the book is Gogol (hence The Namesake) , I see that Mira Nair has capitalized on the immigrant parents theme.

Alok said...

szerlem: it is not a masterpiece but quite good, worth watching once.

swathi: I actually liked it because Gogol as a character is more or less a cliche. The parents are much more interesting and they have both acted very well too.