If you’re somebody who has spent most of your life being really angry about the name your parents stuck you with, then you’ll relate wholeheartedly to none other than Kal Penn as a pretty embarrassed offspring of very traditional Indian immigrants to the United States, in Mira Nair’s The Namesake. Penn, of Harold and Kumer Go To White Castle notoriety, shows his surprising and impressive serious side in the role of Gogol Ganguli, an obsessively assimilation-minded guy who suspects being named after the Russian writer Gogol by his dad, may be a fatal turnoff with females.
Based on the international bestseller of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, but with the enormous breadth and depth of literary details cut down to manageable size for a feature film, The Namesake follows this Bengali family from India to 1970s New York City. Ashoke (Infan Khan), the college student who will eventually father the aforementioned son who has issues with the name he’s fated to endure, is involved in a horrific train accident in India, during which a book by Gogol figures prominently and becomes imbedded permanently in his memory and imagination.
Soon after, Ashoke is joined in an arranged marriage to the radiant and strong-willed Ashima (Tabu). Though they are two strangers thrown together as they defer respectfully to their traditional parents, there is an immediate recognition of a chemistry and emotional connection between them, almost in a curious defiance of the necessary submission to their lot in life as involuntary newlyweds.
With a mixture of obedience and excited anticipation, Ashima follows her husband to New York City, where he teaches at a university. Fantasies about an idyllic America soon give way to harsh realities like winter cold and cramped, shabby apartments. Not to mention a terrible loneliness and longing for homeland and family. Those yearnings are softened a little with the birth of a son and daughter, and the joy of those years.
But as the children, and Gogol especially evolve into typical American kids and become alienated from their parents and their conventional ways, the old regrets and yearnings for the past return. Through a series of family losses and disappointments in love, the relationships among these family members and with the world around them, drift towards and away from one another in a constant flow of sensitively shaped, revealing exchanges of the conflicted inner nature of each character.
This story about family bonds for better or worse, is told with great tenderness, humor and emotional heart that has no ethnic boundaries. The Namesake likewise delves into the usual complicated issues around personal identity, compounded by the physical and psychological journey back and forth between two continents, where neither place feels quite like home. The film flows gently along at its own measured pace, lingering for decisive found moments with enormous insight into the life transformations of these emotionally struggling characters, that make the film a uniquely crafted treasure.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Features: Audio Commentaries from director Mira Nair; Alternate Scenes; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary; Behind The Scenes: Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character with star Kal Penn, and Photography as Inspiration; Featurettes: The Anatomy of The Namesake: A Class at Columbia University’s Graduate Film School, and Kolkata Love Poem; Theatrical Trailer.