Friday, March 30, 2007


"What is really important to me is a sense of humor and a mischief about life. Life is just too boring otherwise."

- Mira Nair

Caveat emptor - Both 'sense of humor' and 'mischief about life' are badly missing from the latest movie from Mirabai films.

When should I go?

If you've just broken up, and suddenly got a Wednesday noon off from work - and it's too hot outside without any significant company - enter the movie-plex. This does remind you of some good old quality family time from past. After you come out, call your mom and speak for a while.

What it is about?

Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan), who's just been gifted a collection of Nicolai Gogol short stories, meets with a train accident. His life takes a different course and he leaves Calcutta for a PhD in New York. He comes back to marry Ashima (Tabu) and they settle near New York. In the course of almost three long and eventful decades, their two kids grow up. Elder one Gogol / Nikhil (Kal Penn) faces many life challenges on identify, relationship, and marriage. The story spans over Calcutta and New York, Winter and Spring, Gogol and Nikhil, Moushumi and Maxine, Husband and Music, and two pairs of shoes. People - mostly the three central characters - are shown to make different choices - sometimes they repent, sometimes they wonder and at other times they just live with it. At it's best Namesake is an extended autobiographical soap opera involving a first-generation Bengali immigrant family in New Jersey suburbs and its travails. Ethnic subtleties, bright colors or complete lack of it in a stolid east coast winter and life decisions inspired only by either respecting or neglecting traditions - and not by any other choice - add some good cinematic moments to this movie.

The 'review' stuff

Dipta has compared Namesake with the last two movies of the Apu trilogy. I honestly don't know why. There is some superficial semblance - Apu's post-marriage Calcutta becomes New Jersey, there are trains in both, rain becomes snow in the later, and there is even a scene - added somewhat forcefully - where Ashoke's and Ashima's night clothes are tied when she wakes up next morning. But the parity stops just at that. If Apu's (movie version) strong and one-dimensional quest of happiness defines the trilogy, three hardly identifiable characters mostly lost in a distant land from their own makes Namesake a passable attempt at winning western audience over after the 'Monsoon Wedding' success.

Ashima is mostly cold till she is beaten by big shocking death of her closed ones. She is also surprisingly strong even after hearing her son's marriage (arranged by her) is fractured. One even wonders whether she was happier at the end with her old passion music, or all the while before with her family. She even recounts the fancy shoes -- and Ashoke's good financial standing -- as her reason to choose him.

Gogol is in cyclical battle between Gogol (the root) and Nick (Nikhil, the reality). India is shown as this vibrant, colorful place of love while the hackneyed east coast suburbia's color was expressed in offending graffiti (Ganguli becomes Gan-Grene) or something very temporal followed by an impassive winter.

While "Monsoon Wedding" was all about urban, Punjabi sub-culture, the later one from Nair is a concoction of (mostly) ambivalent Bengali psyche and (faintly) second-gen immigrant confusion. Namesake is a very run of the mill and, on occasions, just a very hurried commentary on life.

In the beginning Ashima steps into Ashoke's shoes and accepts him in her life. Towards the end, Gogol steps into another pair of Ashoke's and realizes how the relationship completed a full-circle. If that is your kind of flimsy poetry, go and watch it. You may not carry home a feeling, but you will not be disappointed while it lasts.

One more note on the technicalities. Irrfan and Tabu both did a bad job with whatever little Bengali they had to speak. The accent, especially Irrfan's, was clearly out of the place in most scenes.

  • Kal Penn was born Kalpenbhai Modi. He hollywood-ified his name. It seems to have worked!

  • Soonie Taraporewalla returns to script write Mira Nair's movie after a very long gap. Last she wrote "Mississippi Masala" for her.

  • Rani Mukherjee was offered the role of Ashima initially.

  • Jacinda Barrett is just way too cute for a 35 year old! If I were Gogol, I would not be confused in that one thing.


Dipta Chaudhuri said...

I think you wrote this just to disagree with me.

One more trivia:
In the credits, Kal Penn plays Gogol Ganguli and Kalpenbhai Patel plays Nikhil Ganguli!

nilendu said...

Yeah, right!

Govinda comes late for every Mohurat shots. How's that about a superstition? ;)