Thursday, May 24, 2007

names and namesakes-II







i saw mira nair's movie 'the namesake' before reading the book by jhumpa lahiri.my logic for following this order is simple.the movie will not run beyond a certain point of time. whereas one could read the book at any time at one's leisure. one might say wouldn't a dvd be available? well,the experience in watching a dvd at home and a movie in say inox multiplex is quite different.

also there is always a debate regarding the adaptation of a book to a film. while one can extend one's imagination while reading a book, it is not so in the case of a movie. the movie is explicit and definitive and does not leave much to imagination. and that to my mind becomes a bit restrictive.wherever there is an adaptation of a book,i normally do both. watch the movie and read the book. my understanding,experience and delight becomes complete. i get fully satiated.

in the instant case of 'the namesake', director mira nair has done a brilliant job. she breathes life into irfan khan,tabu and kal penn as ashok, ashima and gogol. ashok and ashima, a bengali couple from a traditional and conservative middle-class background move to the us in the 70s after an arranged marriage. they have a son-gogol and a daughter sonia. a typical case of abcd. gogol is left to explore what made his parents what they were. his annual visits to kolkata with his parents and interaction with his grandparents and other relatives gives him this insight which remains in his subconsciousness and etched in memory which manifests after the untimely death of his father.

gogol gets teased about his name in college and that gets his goat. he is a typical american boy. he has dates,affairs and they collapse. he is more into selfsatisfying things than spending quality time with his parents."i don't care what my parents want,it is what i want."

some scenes are very special. for example when ashima is asked to recite a poem when ashok's parents alongwith ashok visit ashima's house and she recites a few verses from wordsworth's 'daffodils'. or when before entering the room where they are all seated,ashima slips into ashok's imported shoes.when ashok dies suddenly in an anonymous midwestern city where he had gone to teach for a semester,gogol has to collect his father's body and personal effects.he too when he enters his father's flat slides into a pair of ashok's shoes.that was gogol's attempt to know the father he often ignored. also,gogol decides to have his head shaved off. a gangsta-rap score plays in the background in the barbershop.all these images are brilliantly shown by mira nair.and the howrah bridge and the bridge on 59th cross,new york.two cities,one oriental,the other occidental.shall the twain ever meet? ashima and ashok try to do that.go off to distant america.but live cocooned.with mainly bengali friends.their children are totally americanised.their language is american and ashima often feels that her children are like strangers to her..

essentially, the story is about two generations of bengalis in the us and their problems in making adjustments in a changed or different society. cold land,cold people. a bengali family stuck to its traditional ways. the children with no baggage to carry come off well though. by integrating themselves to american society. except of course for gogol the name gogol is a constant irritant. he goes back to his good name nikhil shortened to nicky. sonia moves away from home and marries a foreigner.that doesn't bother the parents as much as gogol's love affair with a rich american girl.after architecture at yale he falls in love with maxine(jacinda barrett) a typical wasp blonde princess from long island. when he brings her to meet his family her exhibition of her affection for gogol and calling gogol's mom by her name do not go well with the first generation bengali family. gogol eventually falls in love with moushimi(zuleikha robinson).a sort of an arranged cum love marriage with a childhood acquaintance.moushimi led a free and liberated life in paris before coming over to usa.she is also an abcd but more perhaps than gogol. the marriage is on the rocks due to her extramarital affair.

the death of ashok brings about a transformation in gogol.ashima takes it stoically though on hearing the news,after initial disbelief,she is absolutely devastated.sonia comes physically and emotionally closer to her mother.the first and second generation families share a deep emotional bond.gogol feels sorry for having created a ruckus over his name.he is a changed man.

jhumpa lahiri's book is fascinating and outstanding. in style,expressions,vivid descriptions,humour and angst.it has all of it.when you have read the book,you have experienced all these emotions. that itself says a lot about the writer.though a cliched subject,there is originality and imaginativeness in the writing. mira nair does a commendable adaptation job.it is a jewel of a movie with culture and identity as strong themes within the film.mira nair said that it was somewhat like her own life story.the screenplay by sooni taraporewala is very good.it is all about immigrant experiencce of the first generation.an attempt to integrate with the new world without forgetting the old.their sacrifices have afforded great opportunities to their children. and the search for identity of the second generation.i liked the movie immenesely.it is a sensitive and touching film.irfan does an outstanding job.tabu acts convincingly and with panache.perhaps the best performance of her career.jhumpa has a cameo role.but i wouldn't see it again.i liked the book more.i am already reading it for a second time.maybe i will read it many times more when i again wish to experience those very emotions which the book beautifully conveys.the film falls short of the book.jhumpa's attention to detail is incredible.

mumbai-based designer divya thakur was closely associated with mira nair in designing the credit titles for "the namesake". these have been done in a combination of english and bengali typefaces.she has used english and bengali typefaces together to be in sync with the main theme of jhumpa's book and nair's film.the search and struggle for an identitiy across borders.

i doff my hat to both jhumpa lahiri and mira nair. though i would increase the angle of inclination a bit more for jhumpa.

6 comments:

Lotus Reads said...

Wow, gs, another great review! I had been looking forward to your double review of "The Namesake" and its screen version and it was well worth the wait!

I love your post on names....I think a name can make or break you. When our kids were born, I was insistent on giving them "International" names because one doesn't know where in the world they will go settle and I wanted them to have names that were universally recognised and accepted. But I can see why parents would want to give their children names that had powerful meanings. People interested in numerology are also very particular that the name should add up to an auspicious number. Is that why Irrfan Khan put an extra "r" in his name? :)

You were spot on with the reviews! I think Namesake the book will be forever proud to be associated with Namesake the film.

How did the film fare in India? Were people able to relate to Ashok and Ashima? I ask only because this is such a strong immigrant story. I related so much to Ashima. Granted, her move to the US was in the '70's where people in North America were not so used to seeing people of South Asian origin, so she had a lot more to contend with than I do, however, where I relate to her is in bringing up children who are so American that there are constant clashes between the culture you want them to have versus the culture they are absorbing. I am slowly learning to walk this tightrope between these two cultures.

Once again thank you very much for the reviews!

gs said...

hi lr
i always look forward to your comments.one always feels good to receive effusive comments from friends.
'namesake' has done quite well so far.we had some house guests six weeks back from chicago and bangalore.i suggested to them to see this movie.and they liked it so much.for exactly the same reason that you have given.it is a fine balancing act for parents when their growing children are absorbing an entirely different culture.
unlike in the past,the present generation has a different attitude towards names for newborns.the old rules of naming hardly seem relevant to them.they look for novelty.something very different.
there are many examples of people changing the spelling of their names to improve their prospects.like irrfaan there are ektaa and jayalalithaa.and many more.there is a tv programme in tamil where a famous numerologist helps people to change the spelling of their names or even their names for betterment.

Lotus Reads said...

I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, you picked a beautiful name for your daughter...even her pet name, Lulu, has always been one of my favorites!

gs said...

one has to be a bit careful when one chooses a pet name.it should not 'overtake' the good name.then,the good name gets a bit lost.that has what has happened in l's case.

Lulu said...

hi lotus,
glad to hear you like my name.
i have to say that i always get such extreme reactions to lulu. people either love it or hate it. it has become my identity (though not my legal name) now but i can sense so many indians (and this happens only with indians and no other nationality!) still feel very uncomfortable calling me lulu and always demand to know my "real" name. and when i tell them it's sulakshana they scold me for not using "such a better" name! and for these kind of people, i never bother telling the story of how i got the nickname from my grandfather etc. they just assume that i bastardised my own name because i'm so americanised so i let them feel smug in their own superiority!
i can't tell you how much it annoys me that people can't respect what i wish to be called and have to give me their perspective on which of my names is better.
agh. as you can see, this issue really gets my blood boiling :)

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