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The Namesake : a Story that Hits Home

March 2007

Mira Nair’s new film is to be released later this month in cinemas worldwide. It is inspired by the best-selling novel of the same name that was published in 2003 and written by Jhumpa Lahiri – the contemporary Indian (Bengali) American writer.

The film is the story of the Ganguli family, evoking a lifelong balancing act to meld to a new world without forgetting the old. It is a family drama about a very different type of American family: one that comes 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.

A tale of two cities

Mira’s camera jumps between the two equally colourful and vibrant cities of Calcutta and New York. It moves fluidly between the two cities, yet remaining photographic: providing a dusky picture of Bengali beauty against a Mark Rothko painting in a stark Manhattan space. “I also wanted to capture visually the dizzying feeling of being an immigrant where you might physically be in one particular space, yet you feel like you are some place else in your soul” (Mira Nair)

Ashoke and Ashma

The Namesake - Tabu

Parents Ashoke and Ashima (respectively played by Irrfan Khan and Tabu) long for the family and culture that enveloped them in India however; they also take great pride in the opportunities their sacrifices have afforded their children.

Ashoke and Ashima ride the waves of an incredibly large journey: from the nervous bride and groom of an arranged marriage, to overwhelmed immigrants in New York City, then suburban parents and finally to profoundly loving husband and wife facing life’s biggest hurdles. The love that is described in the film is on the page very “cloaked in propriety” but at the heart it is “as boiling and passionate, full of humour and whimsy as any young love affair today” (Mira Nair).

A young American from India – Meet Gogul

At the heart of the Namesake there is Gogol (Kal Penn)- young American born to Bengali parents burdened with the name of a Russian author searching for his identity amidst this cultural confusion. He tries to follow two paths that of a young American that still retains his Bengali traditions. These paths keep crossing with both comic and painfully revelatory consequences… as he grows older, not only does he undergo physical transformation – shaving his head to express both his grief but also his heartfelt return to his own cultural traditions; he also begins to see the links between the world his parents left behind and the new world that lies in front of him. Another essential part of Gogol’s journey to adulthood are his two love stories: one with a rich American girl (Jacinda Barrett) from an easy going family, then one with a sexy, intellectual and fiery Bengali (Zuleikha Robinson). Kal Penn brings to the role of Gogol a deep understanding of the American-born Indian character, drawing up on his own experience.

The Namesake is beautiful, intimate, poignant and mobile film. It is expected to be the most her most personal film to date, spanning two generations, two different cultures and two different ways of life that crash into each other but that finally intertwine over time. Any first and second generation immigrant will relate and will be profoundly moved by the film and the story. It encompasses in a deep and extremely humane way, the tale of millions – our parents, or ourselves in my case: who have left their home country for another; who have known what it is to try to combine the old ways with the new world and finally “who have left – or still trying to leave – the shadow of their parents to find themselves for the first time.” (Mira Nair)

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