April 07, 2007

Mira Nair's "The Namesake" - An Identity Entrapped?


"What's in a name?" Apparently plenty, according to Mira Nair's movie, "The Namesake". A name for Indians is apparently a hope, an expectation, perhaps a trap, even a blessing; something which connects the past with the present. However, what happens when this connect goes unrecognized or unacknowledged by an individual? The Namesake explores the conflict that arises when immigrant Indian parents presume or perhaps hope that their children, born outside of India, recognize this connect. Nair is not breaking new ground making a movie around a theme that presents the conflict of values between two generations in an immigrant Indian family. I am told that in recent years there have been innumerable films coming out of Bollywood (in Hindi) that explore this theme. Mira Nair has portrayed an Indian immigrant's struggle to hold on to what he deems represents his identity (in this case his name) in a foreign land. However, a non Indian audience may not be as sensitive to some of the cultural nuances presented in the movie that contribute significantly to the understanding of the conflict; like taking off ones shoes when entering a home, the process of selecting a name for the newly born, the son having to shave off his hair after the death of the father. All these events have a deeper meaning than the one that a western audience may take from it.

Who did Mira Nair have in mind as her audience when she made the film? Will ' The Namesake' have the same impact and invoke the same empathy in India as it did in the hearts of all immigrant Indians in the USA? Which makes me wonder if this is a nation specific conflict, one lacking universal appeal. If indeed it is, then would Ms. Nair have been better off making her movie a Bollywood presentation?

The movie is based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, The Namesake. Ms. Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist from India who is renowned for her short stories. I read her novel, The Namesake, a couple of years ago, and it did not make an impact. The writer introduced and abandoned some very strong points of interest; for example the reference to Gogol, and his story 'The Overcoat'. For some reason Ms. Lahiri did not elaborate upon why the father chooses to call his son Gogol. As a reader I felt cheated, even mislead after I finished reading the novel.

Despite all of the above, the movie is definitely worth watching for the outstanding performances by the three main characters; the father (Irfan), the mother (Tabu), and the son (Kal Penn) who put up some heart-rending scenes that had me all choked up a couple of times during the movie. Irfan especially, playing the role of a father who though a man of few words says it all with his abrupt body language, did an excellent job.

18 comments:

eshuneutics said...

I hoped you would review this and give me some inkling about its worth. Sharp points...I am not so tempted to read the novel now. Hope you are well.

D said...

Soory to say III...bt I think Lahiri did mention it in the book...why Gogol...I agree when u say there are a lot of movies of this kind...I don't think anybody in India relate to it anymore...the feelin was there in early 90s when someone from ur family went to US and so...I again agree that all the actors played their part superbly...bt the movie overall is boring esp if u have read the book...u feel cheated..becoz u anticipate to see what u've read and a lot of scenes are missin.....

D said...

...And ur wishes..I'll post them on the appropirate day...thx a lot...

Id it is said...

d,
Did Lahiri explain the choice in the book? I am curious because how does that match up with Nikolai Gogol...
Other than the fact that the father was reading a short story by Gogol minutes before the train crash, there are no other connections (direct or inferred) that can be made with the writer or his writings. The father does make a reference to "we all came out of 'the overcoat'", which I interpreted as-the overcoat being a symbol of man's lure to explore uncharted waters; what the father did when he decide to come to a new country.
What is your take on it?

Lisa Francisco said...

Ola Chica!!!!

I didn't read your post because I'm dying to see this movie but I will wait until it hits netflix!

I didn't want to get spoiled in case you gave the movie away unintentionally!! :)

Anyhow, stopping by to say hi! Have a nice day!!

Lisa

Sharique said...

Customs like giving name to a child and shaving of head after death in a family is something so embedded into this country. Regarding the name change so as to take US/western identity, well the younger immigrant population wants to do away with this immigrant tag and set into the society, a society in which he/she has grown with other Americans. I think its comes naturally to every individual to adapt according to the environment. The name change is more of a cover-up of their identities so as to avoid race to come into picture.

bharath said...

you wouldn't believe. I saw this movie yesterday and I see today a lot of the people I know on blogsphere have seen it too. and so many reviews around. all happy to read.

one of the better movies I have seen in a while. I liked the tightness of the script and attention to details in direction. a welcome aspect to Indian movie making.

one reviewer though pointed out: towards the end the relation between Mo and Gogol was very hurried. they met, they married, and soon they broke up, all in no time. as if showing history on a time line, with marks for the key events. they could have let that part of the story linger a bit longer to sink in just as slowly as the rest of it.

Klara said...

Am tempted to look out for this movi!
BTW Thanx for droppin at mine!

Protegeoflife said...

I just love movie and book it has beautiful substane i it it is must show to everyone whom u feel important. Its all abt value and importanc e of people and place after they are no more and well written review different well i too have written read my review 2

Dr. Deb said...

I wonder where I can see this? Not listed anywhere near me.

D said...

I guess...it was the pages of the book clutched in his hands that made the rescuers notice him. He named him gogol coz according to him - "It reminds me of everything that happened after (the accdent)." This includes the period when he was unable to walk and the memories of the discussion he had with the fellow passenger who told him to go abroad for better future....this is my understanding, could be flawed. Anyhow I'll still say the movie terribly dissappointed me, more than LOTR (lord of the rings).

EXSENO said...

It sounds like an interesting movie to me.
Although born here many of us come from very different backgrounds,that also have their own traditional customs, passed down, after all we are a melting pot here in the western world.
When it comes to name giving, as the indian people cherish the giving of a name, so do the greeks but for different reasons,in their culture it is to honor and carry on the name of a close relative, usually a grandparent and it, is the cause of many a arguement and is a sore point for all involved (forever) if not used. That is why the greeks have so many Mary, Nick and Georges. lol
So I think a lot of people will understand and if nothing else some will walk away having learned something new that might give them a better understanding of anothers culture and that's always a good thing.

Mellowdrama said...

Lol..yes the acting is par excellence but honestly it is rather lame - for instance why does Gogol drop Max like a hot potatoe - the movie cannot bring that out, can it? The book, btw was no great shakes either. There was nothing revealing or anything particularly poignant abt the book - the movie was definitely better, nw that's a first! Have you read INTERPRETER OF MALADIES - that is way, way, way better and not totally wholly catering to the Indian diaosopra which makes it a whole lot more palatable:)

Id it is said...

mellowdrama,
I can't agree with you more: the novel "The Namesake' was no great shakes, the movie redeemed it, and yes, I have read "The Interpreter of Maladies', and I too liked it a lot more than I did her novel.

Do you Dare? said...

HELLO...
JUST TO LET YOU KNOW I DID WATCH PART OF THE MOVIE BY ACCIDENT.

ANYWAYS, WHILE I WAS WATCHING THE MOVIE THE WHOLE TIME I SPEND I THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR CULTURE.

I NEED TO SEE THE WHOLE MOVIE, IF I EVER HAVE TIME.

PS- IF THE 3 MEXICAN DIRECTORS MAKE A MOVIE TOGETHER I BET THAT IT WOULD WORTH TIME WATCHING IT!

ace13 said...

the novel was a fine piece of work by lahiri. the comment that she does not discuss why gogol was picked for a name is hardly a reason for bashing the book...it by no means makes you ask more.

berenice said...

hola dear ID, today i finally watched The Namesake, knowing that you are interested in India, I assumed and rightly that you've seen this film. I haven't read the novel, but I really enjoyed watching the film... I read a long ago Interpreter of Maladies, a fantastic book!
http://bereweber.blogspot.com/2008/10/i-found-this-little-gadget-on-goodreads.html

so I was sort of sad to have seen this film before reading the novel, now that I read your review and your comments about the novel, I am glad I didn't read it and happy to have seen the film, which I really enjoyed!

Marlene Detierro said...

I highly recommend the film. It is
great cinema - and though not necessary as a comparison - is right up
there with the best that Ray has made. Please see this if you want to
see a wonderful film, enjoy good film-making, or just want to learn more
about India and the Indian immigrant experience.

Marlene
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