After moving from Calcutta to New York, the members of the Ganguli family maintain a delicate balancing act between honoring the traditions of their native India and blending into American culture. Although parents Ashoke and Ashima are proud of the sacrifices they make to give their offspring opportunities, their son Gogol strives to forge his own identity without forgetting his heritage.
The Namesake delivers a memorable and affecting portrait of modern immigration and family life. After being the sole survivor of a train crash in India, Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) decides to see the world by moving to America and taking a wife, Ashima (Tabu). Though they both long for the intense familial ties and strong culture they left in India, Ashoke and Ashima build a family. Their son, Gogol (Kal Penn), grows up to be a typical son of immigrants; embracing American culture while having trouble fully connecting to his heritage as a Bengali. As he grows, he changes his “good name” from Gogol to Nikolai which automatically gets Americanized to Nick. But there’s a reason behind his unusual name which he learns to appreciate after losing what he didn’t realize he needed most.
Director Mira Nair, known for her work in Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair, paints a vivid picture that is two parts poignant, one part striking. The core cast – Irrfan Khan as Ashoke, Tabu as Ashima and Kal Penn as Gogol – definitely give outstanding performances that are layered and complex which lends the film a subtle but deep vulnerability. The Special Features on the DVD are more artistic extras than anything truly behind the scenes, but worth the half hour of viewing. I recommend this movie to anyone whose parents or grandparents were not born here in the States to build a greater appreciation of both life in the homeland and life here in America.
Review by Marie Holzer