"Namesake" portrays generational differences
Every child has that moment in life when they wish they could have been someone else. In Jhumpa Lahiri's novel "The Namesake," now a film directed by Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding," "Vanity Fair), protagonist Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn) has allowed his namesake to have quite the affect on him.
After a terrible accident, Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) travels the world, but he goes back to India to find a bride. He finds a soul mate in Ashima (Tabu). They move to America to begin their new lives.
It's a bit of a culture shock for Ashima who has known nothing outside of her Indian home. But soon, the two warm up to one another and begin a family. They want to keep their Indian heritage prominent in their home, but being halfway around the world, when grandparents pick baby names and certain ceremonies must taken place in the parents' home, makes life difficult.
Ashoke and Ashima name their first born son Gogol, after the Russian author. It's a name the boys grows to scorn and later changes, but he doesn't know that the true meaning comes from his father's accident. He and his sister move away from the family's traditions and ignore the sacrifices their parents had to make in order to give them the life they wanted.
Most of all, Gogol begins to associate his parents with the name he hates. He changes it to Nikhil, which was something he refused to do when he started his schooling; dates a privileged white girl, whom his parents don't like much; and stops visiting and calling.
It takes another accident for him to realize what exactly he's hated all these years.
"The Namesake" gives voice to the feelings immigrants experience when coming to America and to the conflict created by the pressures of assimilation. In many ways, the first generation of American-born children doesn't have the same respect for the traditions.
Nair's takes much of Lahiri's storyline for her film, and she keeps what could be an overwhelming and plodding subject and weaves it into a film in which time consciously passes except for in a few spots.
The settings -- primarily in Calcutta, India and New York City -- are gorgeous. The colorful saris in the India scenes offset the drab gray of the concrete jungle.
It's about time that Penn takes on a lead role that doesn't have him craving White Castle or taking up a role for Van Wilder. He dons the right amount of guilt and self-indulgence, but then undergoes a transformation into adulthood with an apologetic acceptance of his past.
The real stars of the movie, however, are Khan and Tabu. The story of the elder Gangulis takes on a greater role than a man torn. The struggles and trying times between countries is much more important to "The Namesake." The transformation they go through, from newlyweds to their later years is also well done through makeup and styling.
Gogol did not change his name to Mikhail. He changed it to Nikhil. His friends called him Nick. I don't know how you missed that if you saw the movie.
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