The Namesake DVD Review, by Kam Williams
by Kam Williams
East Indian Assimilation in U.S. Examined in Generation-Spanning Drama
When Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) Ganguli arrived in the United States in the late Seventies, they had to adjust not only to America but to each other. For the pair had just wed via an arranged marriage and then left their native Calcutta for the proverbial land of opportunity. And the ongoing of these strangers in a strange land effort to adapt and to coexist is the driving force behind The Namesake, a cross-cultural drama adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri's best seller by Mira Nair, director of Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala.
The plot of this decades-long epic thickens stateside after the couple settles in New York City and start a family, first a son, Gogol (Kal Penn), named after his father's favorite writer, and later, a daughter, Sonia (Sahira Nair). Raising the kids prove to be something of a challenge for old-fashioned throwbacks who would prefer that their offspring be inclined to observe traditional Indian customs. Understandably, their children are thoroughly Westernized and, as second-generation citizens, they feel little connection to their roots back on the Subcontinent.
The film focuses mostly on Gogol's anguished soul, and his lifelong effort to find his place in the only country he has ever known. Despite attending Yale, he frustrates his folks when he starts dating a rich white girl (Jacinda Barrett), not that it's easy for him in the face of social ostracism and parental pressure to embrace his heritage.
Ironically, he does later fall for the Bengali beauty (Zuleikha Robinson) he meets on a blind date arranged by his intermeddling mother. But through her, Gogol ultimately only learns another lesson, namely, that a relationship based upon having things in common can't sustain itself on that familiarity alone.
In sum, a magnificent meditation on what it means for many to be American in the 21st Century.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, disturbing images, brief profanity and drug use.
In Hindi, Bengali, French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 122 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD Extras: Audio commentary by director Mira Nair, alternate and deleted scenes with optional commentary, "Behind-the-Scenes" and other featurettes, a theatrical trailer, Fox previews and more.
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