First Impression

  The pavements of big cities not only give shelter to the homeless but also to things of intellectual curiosity-books and films. In a recent trip to Chennai I bought around 40 DVDs containing roughly about 150 films. They are masterpieces of world cinema not available in the VCD/DVD parlours and shops-not even in those so called supermarkets (?).(Personally I often wonder why they are called supermarkets at all where salesmen go blank when asked for VCDs/DVDs of foreign films other than English).My collection has  mostly Spanish, Italian, Japanese, French, Polish, Hungarian, German, South Korean, Iranian and English films. I shall be reviewing all those masterpieces of world cinema in my column ‘First Impression’. What follows is the first supplement of this series.


First Impression: The Namesake

Hollywood has never been noted for its literacy. Yet from its very beginning, it has turned to literature for inspiration and persisted in the practice of translating books to films. They are two different mediums .One uses, as Shakespeare justly says, words and the other, images and sound to recreate reality. As such, it is very difficult to even for an expert film maker to make a cinematic masterpiece out of a literary one. But it is not impossible. As Joy Gould Boyum, the eminent film critic points out, film is an art eminently capable of translating novel, not only in plot and theme, but in style, technique and effect. The Namesake, the latest offering of Mrs. Mira Nair is a classic example at hand.

        From Salaam Bombay to the Namesake, it has been a long journey for Mira Nair, spanning nineteen years. It is a serious film, marked by intensity of emotions, and done on a reflective note. The subject is about the loss of one’s roots. The story of the present film takes the Ganguly family. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake covers three decades of their lives. After surviving a horrific train crash, Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) agrees to an arranged marriage with lively singer Ashima (Tabu) in 1977 Calcutta, before relocating to New York to start a family.

Years pass and the Gangulis' son Gogol (Kal Penn), named after Ashoke's favourite author Nickolai Gogol, grows into a promising architect, married to a rich American girl (Jacinda Barrett). However, Gogol struggles to come to terms with his Bengali heritage, neglecting his parents and even going so far as to hide his given name from his wife and her family. The film tries to capture a bizarre identity crisis on the part of those who have remained immigrants, traumatized by homelessness in the figurative terms. The duel existence of Indian immigrants, especially of the second generation, is metaphorically expressed by Bengalis’ practice of keeping two names-one public, one private.Jhumpa metaphorically uses these two names to represent the duel identities of her characters. The Namesake is a film where Gogol, the protagonist tries to loose one identity, thereby becoming a single whole rather than a fractured one oscillating between two cultures .Therein lies the significance of the title of the film. As such the name of the film is just and suggestive.

   As always Sooni Taraporevala is brilliant as a scriptwriter that ultimately helps the director to visually translate the novel into film. All the characters except Jacinda Barrett have done more than justice to their characters. As a result, there's no chemistry between her and Penn, so we don't care all that much about their relationship problems.
    In a word, the Namesake is an impressively directed, gorgeously photographed (thanks to  cinematographer Frederick Elme) drama, a loving, deeply felt screen translation that should appease fans of the book while making many new converts. Some of the shots are simply beautiful, such as an image of snow-covered steps or a tree with red leaves.

   The novel and the film mingled so artistically, truly supplement each other. Mira has made few minor changes in the story (like she has changed the setting from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York) because this is a deeply personal movie and she had to add some elements of her personal life into the film.  


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