March 25, 2007

The Namesake – A Review

Filed under: Most Read,movie reviews,Movies,opinions — Kaveeta Oberoi Kaul @ 1:58 pm
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Kaveetaa Kaul

Mira Nair is a woman much respected in her chosen profession, having achieved accolades fairly early in her career. Therefore she has managed to inculcate faithfuls to her style of cinema the world over. Being of Indian origin one would like to believe has embellished her visual and aesthetics to the extent that she has managed to carve an enviable niche in the legion of film makers, where gender offers no privileges, contrarily may oftentimes spring in a spanner.

Simply put, ‘The Namesake’ may well be her most refined, mature, superior offering to date. That the film was based on a book by the same name, written by Jhumpa Lahiri and Soni Taraporewala on her team as her screenplay writer must have undoubtedly contributed majorly to the wholesomeness of the final product.

Spanning across a generation, the fizgig of the mind resulting in acceptance of your roots, this is a tale of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, the quintessential Bengali couple who travel half way across the world to make a future for themselves, which promised hope and happiness. Their subsequent journey encompassing the birth of their children Gogol and Sonia and the transformation of a family floundering amidst the wave of cultural differences, is the backdrop which provides for the story unravelling effortlessly, emotionally, subtly and finally leaving you numb with pathos.

What is remarkable is the transition of time/period/age which as if flows mellifluously from one scene to another. No jarrings either in soundtrack, performances, script or dialogues,as if to draw attention to a particular event. The narrative glides along as calmly as the waters of the Hooghly, from where the characters have emerged.

Mira Nair has proven once and for all that her prowess is deserved of her International status. She has succeeded in lending the film a dignity, poise quiet charm that slowly but surely seeps into your psyche, and before you know it the characters have endeared themselves to you, as closely as maybe your Bengali family friends, so much so that insidiously tears spring up mirroring those on the screen or laughter with as much responsiveness.

The embarrassment of the name ‘Gogol’ which as if haunts the growing up years of the son to the final revelation as to its antecedents is touching. This simple strain of thought has bound the film, interlaced with endearing romance of the senior couple, the harshness of wintry times of their life and the summer of bliss, all cast an indelible mark in ones mind, long after leaving the auditorium.

Pandering to foreign audiences by including the ‘Durga Pujo’ scenes and perhaps the visit to the Taj Mahal does call for regret. However, in the final analysis, it certainly does not amount to much. A certain section always willing to put under the scanner such inclusions by Deepa, Mira and in the past Satyajit Ray, are unfortunately making the part to be the sum. An open minded viewing would help sift out prejudices and reflect a mature discernment..much needed. Critics are a-plenty. Critiques are getting rarer by the day.

The simplicity and unpretentious locales should not fool the average viewer into believing that the film has cost anything less than the most expensive ‘Devdas’ of Bhansali. Its an arduous task to elicit the required joyful smile out of a toddler to perfection.. it requires time, read money as also negative, read film, apart from the other detailing the film has indulged in. The marriage sequences in Kolkata and America, with even the junior artists dressed to play characters, reality based, can translate into substantial budget allocations, even for seemingly innocuous screen time seconds.

Mira therefore could ‘afford’ to make the film with sincerity of approach and certain veracity of encapturing the culture that is India. She has spoken in a recent interview of how she chose to base the character of Ashoke on Nilanjan Dey of ‘Megha Dhaka Tare’ by Ritwik Ghatak, the magnificently creative Director, who died almost unsung, and that of Ashima on Rays favourite Madhabi Mukherjee. It does go to prove that its finally our legends who to this day inspire even the most acclaimed, honed and chiseled of Directors.. Who taught the legends.. there was no NYU then pal! Film makers are born NOT made!

Irrfan Khan as Ashoke Ganguli will remain etched deep in ones memory for ever. His soft, understated, yet powerhouse performance , replete with Bengali accent to the hilt, and his deep oceanic eyes ( his father, he recounts, referred to them as ‘pyaalas’) sufficiently moist to wring your heart, in the scene when he finally reveals to Gogol the origins of his name, will go down as one of the finest by any Indian actor. Not mentioning the scene between the father and little Gogol at the edge of the sea, brilliantly written, suggesting the son remember the moment since the camera was absent, will be akin to bypassing an original and touching depiction of timelessness.tabu.jpg

Tabu, has received her due share of recognition in India, but not as of late. As is wont to occur in a scenario typical of Bollywood, an actor past his prime, is rarely given portrayals to credit his talent. Unless of course you are one of the Khans, then of-course you can play a college student at 40, and the honchos decide to send the movie to the Oscars as well! (wicked smirk)

But focusing back on Ashima Ganguly, Tabu as always has assayed the character with the dignity and poise it required. Her accent as the Bengali woman came off starkly inept in comparison to the near perfection of Irrfans rendering. Nonetheless the chemistry between the two, by now legendary, after Maqbool, by Bharadwaj, lent sufficiently to add the necessary easy camaraderie of the adoringly, devoted couple that were the Gangulis.


Kal Penn as Gogol is a natural. His eyes spoke, They were as if bursting with inventiveness for the character. Not for a moment did he seem in awe or threatened by the presence of histrionics from Irrfan. He maintained his own with a studied casualness that bespoke of immense talent. Pleasurable watch.

Cinematography was brilliant to say the least. It lovingly captured fine nuances both in the characters and locales. Never for a second out of sync with the mood of the scene.

Its a pity that Bollywood will never take cognisance of stories/ Directors/ cinema of this kind..since our Bihari babus, masses, in general would rather be entertained in the crassiest of denotations. Its not as if there is a paucity Mira Nairs or Shekhar Kapurs in India.What is of shameful dearth is Twentieth Century Fox willing to back them!!

Rating: 4/5


  1. must say,very beautifully written ,even though im very busy i always find time to read all your reviews,since i can experience the movie even before watching it.. still after reading this one,im surely going to find some time n go watch this movie,since you speak so highly off it…

    Comment by abhi — March 25, 2007 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

  2. Intrigued πŸ™‚

    How much did Devdas cost btw? I think it would be in the region of 30 cr. Right?
    Or more?

    Comment by krishnan — March 25, 2007 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

  3. Why Thanks Abhi.. sweet of you n welcome πŸ™‚

    Krishnan.. a ball park figure would be in the range of 50cr..which is no sneezing money by Indian standards. For 20th C it would be a small budget venture. Whats encouraging is that the Producers will recover their money and more which will pave the way for more to fearlessly now tread the Bollywood path.

    before we know Bollywood is soon gonna be a global reality leaving its stamp quite remarkably. The need for creative Producers not just Directors cannot be over emphasised though. Those willing to chip in with funds must allow for films of this kind to be made and not just the usual safe variety. Once that happens on a regular basis i have no doubts as to the plethora of talent that will emerge, who are now bogged down by constraints ranging from lack of good scripts to paucity of producers willing to back a project which does not reek of mediocrity..and ofcourse the ‘star’ obsession where Indians are not willing to give a decnt opening to any film which does not boast of a star.. irrespective of the sincerity of its makers.

    The so called critics too have played a detrimental role..they as if ridicule any effort which has the actors other than of their liking.

    Snobbery is a given with Indian critics and they are the ones who shout themselves hoarse over lack of cinematic excellence.. Pseudo intelligentsia has often irked me no end.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 26, 2007 @ 11:06 am | Reply

  4. Quite a review ! Great πŸ™‚

    Look first a confession. i have not seen the film, but do intend. This couple is fascinating irfan and tabu and that is one of the reasons why i will go for the movie before i see ‘water’ tho i see you have praised that film too. Mira has impressed me much more than deepa as a director even a little partiality is expected.


    Comment by Sanjay — March 26, 2007 @ 2:44 pm | Reply

  5. Who said only seeing is believing? ,sometimes people like you make reading too(believe)…..I haven’t seen the movie yet but now i’m looking forward to this film.

    I completely agree with you.We are hypocrites and we won’t find uncomfortable watching a hero as a college boy, no matter how perfectionist(hero) you are he can’t hide from the camera but we can’t digest heroines making a comeback and surely they won’t be playing college students.Movies have nothing todo with age as long as people play their ages and what suits them and above all convincing enough.I really admire zora sehgal who at this age looks so lively.we won’t mind sanjay playing overgrown student in munnabhai mbbs as it suits him perfectly in that context.

    Comment by Aneesh — March 26, 2007 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  6. Hey Sanjay..

    Long time no see..

    You like Mira over Deepa? Hmmmm. unfair to compare pal. They each have their strengths but yes as far as the two films are concerned.. Namesake for me has a slight edge..the sensitivity was brilliant.

    Hi Aneesh,

    Thanks ..that was sweet.

    Actually I make an effort not to disclose the plot, sub plot just so that you get to see the film as tha maker intended the sense that the plot unravels of its own. Therefore I keep the actual revelation of the plot to the minimal possible.

    Yes it irks me no end that Meryl Streep is an acclaimed actress being offered meaty roles and all that, nominated almost every yesr in the Oscars, but in India a woman is considered a central character only if she dares to bare, skimpily clad, teeny bopper. Miras film had Irfan and Tabu has gone on to becoming the biggest grosser in recent times, for an indie film. When will we learn to appreciate a variety of stories and get rid of stereotypes.. I wonder.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 27, 2007 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  7. Hi Kaveeta,

    Wonderful review!… Only few filmmakers give substantial roles to actresses which is really sad.There are so many characters to play than the usual characters of a stereotype mother,lover,sister and vamp etc.I hope things change soon some film directors already making the right moves in this direction.I feel no actresses should end their career even if they get married , its like any profession and they should constantly reinvent or discover themselves.Being a women i feel proud of actresses like tabu.

    Comment by shanthi — March 27, 2007 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  8. life seems so jaded..

    lifez mysteries seem so faded…

    the reels n reals- confusing πŸ™‚

    gud read.. by Big B… nothing to say, or to say it u left me- word-less πŸ™‚
    wens indian cricket team comin on ur stands?? they deserve a broom rite?

    Comment by saptarshi — March 27, 2007 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  9. Sapt..

    Big B? Me? Naah. sapt..thats blasphemy..also rhymy πŸ™‚

    Cricket team and their blundering fiascos.. so much has been written .It enthuses me no more. Plus, with a murder (Woolmer) being ascribed… crickets lost its bite for me. Indians have gotta give up their passion/obsession/maniacal fetish for the game..its time. Either treat it like a sport or me not whetting their appetite for more..My humble contribution in blunting the salvo.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 28, 2007 @ 2:01 pm | Reply

  10. hey no man!!

    BIG B is the buddha… the ref. from ur oldie post πŸ™‚ it was used like the expression by jove! only i wanted it to be desi… like the movie.. ABCD- american bred creative desi πŸ™‚

    Comment by saptarshi — March 28, 2007 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  11. Aaach..szoo.. mein deutsche attempt

    Got the point Big B

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 28, 2007 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  12. Hi Shanthi,

    Thanks a ton.

    Things to change? I dont know ..its not as thoughthere is not enough potential for growth. I think this catering to so many Indias at the single most important level of the Box office is what gets the parameters awry. If we as a paying audience patronise innovative cinema wholeheartedly, then makers will be enthused to innovate. ..which sadly is not the case. Commerce rules..therefore women oriented subjects have to take a beating.

    Hollywood has always been appreciative of a good storyline irrespective of age/gender/locale/ will take a while before India and Indians follow the path..sure worth waiting will bring in the dawn of real cinematic language so far unexplored.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 31, 2007 @ 7:10 am | Reply

  13. […] Ask Mira Nair (nothing personal…she is one of the most talented Directors of Indian review of Namesake) Now Slumdog millionaire. Oh I know the snort that greets such averments by the liberal brigade who […]

    Pingback by Of Slumdog Millionaire, Oscars And India « Sachiniti — January 23, 2009 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  14. tabu gi ismai fans ahimo doucoure aminata ahilovi

    Comment by doucoure aminata — April 1, 2010 @ 12:31 am | Reply

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