A Host of Golden Daffodils: Namesake movie review Friday, 17 April, 2009Posted by ~uh~™ in Hollywood, World Movies.
Tags: Bangla, Bengali, Gogol, Irrfan Khan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kal Penn, Kalpen Modi, Kolkata, Mira Niar, Namesake, overcoat, Tabu, To each his own
This is my old review originally published here.
Namesake is based on the debut novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Namesake was inspired by the author’s own quandary of being a “London born American Bengali”, away from Kolkata, & that the fact she adapted her nick name over her good name- Nilanjana.
All Bengali’s have two names. The nickname, is given immediately after birth. A nickname is a neat outcome of the relative’s endless love & affection to the new born. Sometimes, the nickname represents a favorite thing (comic character, vegetables, food, sportsman, author, animals) of the most influential family member. Result is a mono or duo syllable word, mostly meaningless, just a sweet timbre of lilt. Like bantu, pele, buban, gogol, hojo for boys & mimi, puchki, jhumpa, rinku, tapur for girls.
Bengali’s takes long to name their children- 6 months or more. By the time the “good name” is finalized the baby is already established with his/ her identity. In Namesake, it happened to Gogol, son of Ashoke & Ashima Ganguli born in the New York waiting for his great grandparents from Kolkata, to “name” him.
Namesake is a representation of present day issues involving an émigré Bengali family & a young man’s identity, his relationships, marriage, love, life, & death in the Americas.
The Story & Cast
As I have not read the book, I will briefly touch the subject as understood from the film.
Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) a Bengali young man from Kolkata loved reading Nikolai Gogol, a Russian Author who’s life was bit similar to Van Gogh, what I gathered. Ashoke survives a train accident while he was reading Gogol’s “The Overcoat”. Just before the accident a co-passenger, Mr. Ghosh tells him to get out of the rut & see the world. Ghosh dies in the accident, his last dialogue being “to each his own”…while sipping his liquor from his hip-pouch.
Survived Ashoke, inspired by Ghosh, eventually goes to America to pursue his PhD. His parents get him married to a Bengali girl from Kolkata, Ashima (Tabu). Gogol (Kal Penn) is born shortly & named after his father’s favorite author. Gogol is neither an American nor a Bengali name. Moreover, the associated fact that the Russian author was insane, never been successful in his living life & was unable to father a child- makes our Gogol an easy bully!
The story spans around 25-30 years of time till Gogol grows to a charming adult. The beginning evolves around life of Ashoke & Ashima showing their married life, birth of Gogol & Sonia & how they gradually settle in America. The story then gradually moves on to shift focus towards Gogol’s growing up in life, his relationships, happiness & pain. The story narrates the ups & downs of the family, their visit to Kolkata- root, the bonding & split, how Gogol gets inspired to opt for Architecture seeing Taj Mahal. Finally, the story leads to freedom of Gogol & his self-realization within his world.
The film ends in 2 hrs, but the story does not. Can story of a journey ever end? Sesh jekhane; shuru sekhane (End is beginning of something else)….
Depicting a story of two generations spanning 30 years within 2 hrs may be difficult. But further difficult task is to take the audience along in the journey, let them feel the passion, emotion & agony of the characters within the limited hrs of viewing. Though, the film is set little apace at places, Mira Niar, has probably done a great justice to the novel in her crisp direction. While reading a book, we can always pause, think & re-read. A movie, being a director’s medium we need to believe what we are directed to see.
The cast & the direction made it a brilliant piece of cinema, leaving me in a somber state of mind.
Irfan, portrays a scholarly Bengali man from youth to middle age with much conviction, which is complemented brilliantly by Tabu as his wife. A typical Bengali man wears specs, smokes a lot, loves his family & fosters sublime values to his children. A typical Bengali man also loves to travel. Irfan’s character has a lot of detail to observe & understand. Irfan after playing lead roles in “Shadows of time” & “Namesake” is as Bengali as I am.
Tabu, grows in the movie from a classical music student from Kolkata to a wife of an American professor to mother of American children. While there are some detailing drawbacks (e.g.- the way of wearing a sari is not Bengali) to portray a Bengali housewife, the way she enacts mothering his children, is awesome. She travels 30 years of Ashima’s life, based on simple values like love, affection & sacrifice; her performances while dealing with the pain of losing near ones & still strong enough a character to find her own destiny is absolutely mind-blowing. Destiny, Tabu got the role as Rani Mukherjee & Konkona could not find time to do Ashima.
Kalp Penn (real name is Kalpen Modi) as Gogol is the most important & complicated character in the movie. A bullied student, a confused young, a rebel son, a romantic boy-friend to an American girl, an aspiring Architect, a good son, a betrayed husband- he had to do it all. And he does it perfectly, unlike American Desi. His screen presence was probably equal or just shorter than Irfan or Tabu, but his performance as Gogol is way beyond the limit of cinematic duration. I wish, his journey as a confused rootless American to a determined Bengali son in Namesake, takes him to greater heights.
Jagannath Guha as Ghosh is impactful in the shortest role. To each his own. Sabyasachi Chakravarthy as Ashima’s father, Jacinda Barrett as Gogol’s girls friend helps strengthening Tabu & Kal. Special mention must go to Zuleikha Robinson as Moushumi Mazumdar as Gogol’s wife for her short , sexy & sweet performance as a French speaking liberated woman.
It was heartbreaking to see age catching Ruma Guhathakurta as she plays Ashoke’s mother.
Jhumpa Lahiri plays a typical Bengali “masi”, but it is difficult to recognize her also as author of the book!
Overall brilliant- having shot in locations like Kolkata, US & Taj. The chill of winter & color of autumn surmounts beyond celluloid.
However, the portraying of 70’s Kolkata was a bit clichéd & fast, especially outdoors. There’s more to Kolkata than procession, Howrah Bridge, wrought iron railings of balcony. Yuva captured the city in a better way. The shots at Agra & Victoria memorial in Kolkata were superbly taken.
However, the movie never weakens its gravity or dramatizes any situation, but splash of humour albeit makes it lighter & a bit closer to viewers heart. The earlier part of the language is Bengali, later it shifts to English in Bangla & American Accent.
Background score by Nitin Sawhney varies greatly according to the themes of the scene. I liked the heavy undertones for the gloomy scenes. There’s a Bhatiali song & a Bollywood number as well!
You can take a Bengali out of Kolkata, but you can’t take Kolkata out of a Bengali. The film made me emotional to let me weep inside. Being a woman, the way Jhumpa wrote the story from a man’s perspective & the way Mira Nair handles the complexity of relationships to gift us a superb heart touching film, my ovation to both of them.
The title comes from a Wordsworth poem featured in the movie.
We all came from Gogol’s overcoat.
I carried this movie out from the theatre, thinking of my childhood at Kolkata. I felt the urge to talk to my parents. Probably, you will do too.
A must watch for all serious cinema lovers.
Warning: This is not a feel good movie. There are few shocks, nudity & graphic scenes not suitable for minors. I feel, the book should be read after watching the movie, as ” don’t judge a book by its movie”.