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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review: The Namesake

The Namesake (drama)
Cast: Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Kal Penn
Direction: Mira Nair
The Indian diaspora finally finds its voice: elegant, articulate and ekdum real. Here, there is no hysterical clash-of-culture cacophony about how the Patels, Gangulis and the Punjabis leave India, only to create Little India’s all over the world.
And here there is no hullabaloo about the Angrezi-born-confused-desi dilemmas that the second generation NRI kids succumb to: an overdose of drugs, sex and the dark side of the moon. Instead, there is a gentle probing, a mild introspection on cross cultural conflicts coupled with a quiet celebration of the idea of India, minus all chauvinism.
If Monsoon Wedding was a wild and rumbustious festival of India (read Punjabi culture), then The Namesake is a Haiku about Hindustan: minimalist, magical and intensely moving. Mira Nair takes Jhumpa Lahiri's novel and transforms it into visual poetics, using her colour palette to create a riveting kaleidoscope of contrasts.
If New York is captured in its winter whites, greys and pastel interiors — with just an occasional shot of autumnal fire — then the 1970s Calcutta is virtually a riot of colour and chaos. The grandmother shopping for fresh vegetables at her doorstep, the grandfather creating canvases of Howrah and the Hooghly, the shabby trams rattling down the decrepit tracks and the folk singer finding a resonance in foreign souls...the camera simply seduces the scenery into syrupy frames. But more than the cinematography, it is the soundtrack — long tracks of silence and solitary dialogues — that brings out the loneliness of the protagonists as they try to find new ground beneath their feet.
The film captures the journey of two generations of the Ganguli family in America. Ashima and Ashok (Tabu and Irrfan) leave for foreign shores after their arranged marriage and try and build a home and a family in a culture that both lures and scares them. They need to discover each other and the new country too.
But the passage is almost lyrical and the hiccups are mild as the good Bengali couple soon find an extended family of Bengalis who join them on births, christenings and birthdays. The story soon shifts to the second generation — their son Gogol and daughter Sonia — who ostensibly are thoroughbred Americans. Except that Gogol can’t understand why he had to be given such a strange name.
They go through their regular round of Americanisms, only to find out that there’s a long journey of self-discovery still beckoning them. India is an idea that lives in the heart and the mind, rather than a land-locked territory; and India is a style of upbringing and attitude that transcends territory.
Great performances, an iridescent canvas and a topical theme: The Namesake is Mira Nair's tribute to her janmabhoomi.

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