Namesake, The

After the artistic and commercial flop of “Vanity Fair,” Mira Nair is back on terra firma with “The Namesake,” the story of the Ganguli family whose move from Calcutta to New York City evokes a lifelong balancing act to meld to a new world without forgetting the old one.

Though rambling and episodic, the movie is colorful enough in its locales and strong enough in is ensemble acting to sustain interest for most of the time. “The Namesake” is by no means a great picture”Monsoon's Wedding” is still Nair's signature piecebut the multi-racial and national characters are engaging, and the film offers a window into a world seldom depicted in mainstream or indie films.

Thematically, the new film hits close to home; it feels like a more personal work than Nair's previous films. Born in India, Nair was educated in the U.S., at Harvard University, and has made movies that are financed by and set in both India and America. But more importantly, the recurrent motif in Nair's best work is the search for home by people who could be described by the sociological concept of marginal, namely people who live in two cultures, never really belonging to one.

This was the subject of “Mississippi Masala” in 1992, which also centers on an interracial romance, as well as the “The Perez Family” in 1995, which depicts the experiences of one Cuban family, separated by socio-political circumstances, in Miami.

“The Namesake” is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. The film's screen adaptation was penned by Sooni Taraporevala, with whom Nair previously collaborated on Mississippi Masala and the Oscar–nominated “Salaam Bombay!” which won the prestigious Camera d”or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.

Though parents Ashoke and Ashima (Irfan Khan, Tabu) long for the family and culture that enveloped them in India, they take great pride in the opportunities their sacrifices have afforded their children. Paradoxically, their son Gogol (Kal Penn) is torn between finding his own unique identity without losing his heritage. Even Gogol's name represents the family's journey into the unknown.

Spanning two generations, two clashing cultures and two different ways of life that crash into each other only to become intertwined, “The Namesake” is ultimately about the imminently relevant question: what does it mean to be an American family Nair brings to the screen a poignant and transporting version of Lahiri's rich novel, which won readers' hearts across the world with its exploration of the ties that can both tangle and bind global families as they endure the modern vicissitudes of change, conflict and disaster.

Jumping between the equally colorful and vibrant cities of Calcutta and New York, “The Namesake” is basically a family melodrama, but it's about a very different kind of contemporary American family. The Gangulis come to the U.S. from India in order to experience a world of limitless opportunities–only to be confronted with the perils and confusion of trying to build a meaningful life in a baffling new society.

On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) jet off from sweltering Calcutta to a wintry New York where they begin their new life together. Virtual strangers to one another, and with Ashima now living in a new and very strange land, their relationship quickly takes a turn when Ashima gives birth to a son.

Under pressure to name him quickly, Ashoke settles on Gogol, after the famous Russian author, a name that serves as a link to a secret past and, Ashoke hopes, a better future. But life isn't as easy for Gogol as his parents might wish. As a first-generation American teenager, Gogol (Kal Penn) must learn to tread a razor-thin line between his Bengali roots and his American birthright in the search for his own identity.

As Gogol attempts to forge his destiny, rejecting his given name, dating a rich American girl (Jacinda Barrett), heading to study architecture at Yale, his parents cling to their Bengali traditions. But their paths keep crossing with both comic and painfully revelatory consequences–until Gogol begins to see the links between the world his parents left behind and the new world that lies in front of him.


Fox Searchlight Pictures/Entertainment Farm/UTV Motion Pictures presentation of a Mirabi Films and Cine Mosaic production. Produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher, Mira Nair. Executive producers, Yasushi Kotani, Taizo Son, Ronnie Screwvala. Co-producers, Lori Keith Douglas, Yukie Kito, Zarina Screwvala. Directed by Mira Nair. Screenplay, Sooni Taraporevala, based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel.


Gogol (Kal Penn) Ashima (Tabu) Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) Maxine (Jacinda Barrett) Moushumi Mazumdar (Zuleikha Robinson)