24 March 2013
Film review: Namesake (2006), by Mira Nair, ****
Namesake is a Bollywood drama by Mira Nair, based on the best-selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) are a young couple who are brought together in an arranged marriage and soon leave Calcutta to seek their fortune in America. Before long, Ashima gives birth to a baby boy, and pressed to choose a name, they dub the infant Nikhil (Kal Penn), though he soon picks up the nickname Gogol, after Ashoke's favourite author. By the time the child is old enough to attend school, he insists upon being called Gogol at all times, and he displays little interest in his Indian heritage.
Several years on, Gogol has decided he wants to be called Nick (and is now played by Kal Penn) and has become a thoroughly Americanised teenager, openly rebelling against his parents, smoking marijuana in his room, and dating Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a preppy blonde from a wealthy family. Ashoke and Ashima are uncertain about how to deal with their son's attempts to cut himself off from their culture, but Nick begins expressing some uncertainty himself when he meets Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson), a beautiful girl who also comes from a family of Indian expatriates.
Multiple stories in this film. Indian immigration in the 1970s, with a bright young engineering student who finds opportunities at M.I.T., the dream university for many scientists around the world. What a coincidence, I went to M.I.T. in the seventies, same university and same decade! Some of my classmates and best friends were just like Ashoke!
Also a touching family love story, with the problems faced by parents of adolescent kids in every country.
The strong role of the family bonds in Indian culture is a message not to be missed, and from which we in the West have much to learn.
I found the puzzlement of the American born kids when they go back to visit India the most entertaining and amusing part of the film.
Everything rotates around the quirky name that Ashoke has chosen for his son, and the meaning of this name which only becomes clear to the son after his father's death.
See more of my reviews of films about India in this blog.
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