Tuesday, 2 September 2008

"The Namesake". A Review Of The Mira Nair Film Now On DVD.

"For Our Parents Who Gave Us Everything..."

Mira Nair's third film "The Namesake" deals with Bengali families both in their native India and abroad (USA) - and I have to say is one of the most satisfying and beautiful watches I had the pleasure of sitting down to in ages. To an Irishman of 49 and typical multiplex type, I'd admit that most of the cast is unrecognizable to me, but that makes no odds, because all are uniformly superb. And I love the insights the film gives into a culture as fascinating as theirs.

It begins in 1977 when a young Bengali man (who has been to study in the USA since 1974) is back in his native Calcutta to meet his new bride - one that is picked out for him whether he likes her or not. He is Ashoke, an engineer with prospects - played subtly and gently by a fantastic Irrfan Khan. Ashoke gets real lucky - his bride is the quietly beautiful Ashima (it means limitless, played by the gorgeous Bollywood star Tabu). Waiting with her parents, Ashoke looks uncomfortable but resigned - its been done this way for centuries. Before Ashima goes into the room to see him for the first time - she tries on his American shoes he's left outside the room - they fit and she likes them - a good sign. Ashima takes them off and meekly enters - ultra respect to her elders. Ashoke is not traditionally handsome, but his big soppy bug-eyes and equally studious glasses tell you that this is a good man - and an intelligent one. They marry in full traditional dress and custom. Ashima waves her family goodbye at the airport and then on to New York.

Life in America is foreign to her, but she adapts. Besides, something else is happening that makes it all bearable; Ashima is slowly but surely falling in love with her 'chosen' husband. It's in these scenes that the film shows it true charm - it's so beautifully and realistically handled (many scenes returned to later in flashback to flesh out dialogue that is important and pivitol to the story). Their relationship is an evolving love, away from need and initial awkwardness into a mutual respect for each other. The believability of the two lead actors here is crucial - and you can feel their drawing together - year after year after year.

The story continues to both of their kids being born (a boy and a girl), then young, then grown up and full of New Yawk attitude and difficulty with the 'old ways' - even with their names. 1st born - and most rebellious - the boy's name is Gogol (played by Kal Penn), which he hates with a passion until he finds out why his father called him that (a train journey and a passenger who changed his life). Gogol and his sister's dual identities cause them both conflict and even heartache. They endure racism, work, snobbery, meet potential partners, they marry - and on it goes - to sad and joyful surprises as their life journey progresses. It's set across 25 years and there's a lot crammed in. (Gogul's sister Sonia is played by Sahira Nair)

The Namesake is as much about Indian culture (then and now) as it is about the power and pull of family - that one thing that unites us all with love and misery in equal measure! I can't recommend this movie enough - in my Top 20 with a bullet. A gentle and beautiful surprise I heartily recommend.

P.S.: Like Gustavo Santaolalla's music in "The Motorcycle Diaries" and "Babel", Nitin Sawhney's music is one of the reasons the movie has such slow and majestic power - an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack - and one I'm going to buy pronto!

P.P.S.: The title of this review is from the dedication in the credits.

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