Looking for a good movie to see this weekend? Check out The Namesake (opening tomorrow), Mira Nair’s film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s best-selling novel of the same name. The film tells the story of Ashima (played by the wonderful Bollywood star Tabu) and Ashoke (Irfan Kahn), immigrants to New York from Calcutta, and their son Gogol (Kal Penn), named (for reasons that can’t be revealed in this blog post) after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. The unfortunate trailer makes The Namesake look like the story of a son whose Indian parents don’t want him to date a white girl (I guess they thought it would help sell tickets?), but the movie tells a far more interesting immigration story.
Nair eschews a neat and tidy view of immigration and instead displays it in all its messy contradictions. This family is in many ways quaintly American—their clean suburban home, Ashima gluing sparkles onto home made Christmas cards—yet the parents cringe at the easy informality of their children, and the action shifts equally between India and the United States, creating a palpable sense of what Nair calls “living between two worlds.”
Fans of Nair’s other works (especially Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala) may be surprised by this film’s more somber tone, but as in those other films, Nair shows a keen eye for interpersonal relationships and presents a touching portrait of familial love and the complex emotions of immigration.
For more on The Namesake, read my interview with Mira Nair here. (She gives a great interview.)