Mira Nair is a woman much respected in her chosen profession, having achieved accolades fairly early in her career. Therefore she has managed to inculcate faithfuls to her style of cinema the world over. Being of Indian origin one would like to believe has embellished her visual and aesthetics to the extent that she has managed to carve an enviable niche in the legion of film makers, where gender offers no privileges, contrarily may oftentimes spring in a spanner.
Simply put, ‘The Namesake’ may well be her most refined, mature, superior offering to date. That the film was based on a book by the same name, written by Jhumpa Lahiri and Soni Taraporewala on her team as her screenplay writer must have undoubtedly contributed majorly to the wholesomeness of the final product.
Spanning across a generation, the fizgig of the mind resulting in acceptance of your roots, this is a tale of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, the quintessential Bengali couple who travel half way across the world to make a future for themselves, which promised hope and happiness. Their subsequent journey encompassing the birth of their children Gogol and Sonia and the transformation of a family floundering amidst the wave of cultural differences, is the backdrop which provides for the story unravelling effortlessly, emotionally, subtly and finally leaving you numb with pathos.
What is remarkable is the transition of time/period/age which as if flows mellifluously from one scene to another. No jarrings either in soundtrack, performances, script or dialogues,as if to draw attention to a particular event. The narrative glides along as calmly as the waters of the Hooghly, from where the characters have emerged.
Mira Nair has proven once and for all that her prowess is deserved of her International status. She has succeeded in lending the film a dignity, poise quiet charm that slowly but surely seeps into your psyche, and before you know it the characters have endeared themselves to you, as closely as maybe your Bengali family friends, so much so that insidiously tears spring up mirroring those on the screen or laughter with as much responsiveness.
The embarrassment of the name ‘Gogol’ which as if haunts the growing up years of the son to the final revelation as to its antecedents is touching. This simple strain of thought has bound the film, interlaced with endearing romance of the senior couple, the harshness of wintry times of their life and the summer of bliss, all cast an indelible mark in ones mind, long after leaving the auditorium.
Pandering to foreign audiences by including the ‘Durga Pujo’ scenes and perhaps the visit to the Taj Mahal does call for regret. However, in the final analysis, it certainly does not amount to much. A certain section always willing to put under the scanner such inclusions by Deepa, Mira and in the past Satyajit Ray, are unfortunately making the part to be the sum. An open minded viewing would help sift out prejudices and reflect a mature discernment..much needed. Critics are a-plenty. Critiques are getting rarer by the day.
The simplicity and unpretentious locales should not fool the average viewer into believing that the film has cost anything less than the most expensive ‘Devdas’ of Bhansali. Its an arduous task to elicit the required joyful smile out of a toddler to perfection.. it requires time, read money as also negative, read film, apart from the other detailing the film has indulged in. The marriage sequences in Kolkata and America, with even the junior artists dressed to play characters, reality based, can translate into substantial budget allocations, even for seemingly innocuous screen time seconds.
Mira therefore could ‘afford’ to make the film with sincerity of approach and certain veracity of encapturing the culture that is India. She has spoken in a recent interview of how she chose to base the character of Ashoke on Nilanjan Dey of ‘Megha Dhaka Tare’ by Ritwik Ghatak, the magnificently creative Director, who died almost unsung, and that of Ashima on Rays favourite Madhabi Mukherjee. It does go to prove that its finally our legends who to this day inspire even the most acclaimed, honed and chiseled of Directors.. Who taught the legends.. there was no NYU then pal! Film makers are born NOT made!
Irrfan Khan as Ashoke Ganguli will remain etched deep in ones memory for ever. His soft, understated, yet powerhouse performance , replete with Bengali accent to the hilt, and his deep oceanic eyes ( his father, he recounts, referred to them as ‘pyaalas’) sufficiently moist to wring your heart, in the scene when he finally reveals to Gogol the origins of his name, will go down as one of the finest by any Indian actor. Not mentioning the scene between the father and little Gogol at the edge of the sea, brilliantly written, suggesting the son remember the moment since the camera was absent, will be akin to bypassing an original and touching depiction of timelessness.
Tabu, has received her due share of recognition in India, but not as of late. As is wont to occur in a scenario typical of Bollywood, an actor past his prime, is rarely given portrayals to credit his talent. Unless of course you are one of the Khans, then of-course you can play a college student at 40, and the honchos decide to send the movie to the Oscars as well! (wicked smirk)
But focusing back on Ashima Ganguly, Tabu as always has assayed the character with the dignity and poise it required. Her accent as the Bengali woman came off starkly inept in comparison to the near perfection of Irrfans rendering. Nonetheless the chemistry between the two, by now legendary, after Maqbool, by Bharadwaj, lent sufficiently to add the necessary easy camaraderie of the adoringly, devoted couple that were the Gangulis.
Kal Penn as Gogol is a natural. His eyes spoke, They were as if bursting with inventiveness for the character. Not for a moment did he seem in awe or threatened by the presence of histrionics from Irrfan. He maintained his own with a studied casualness that bespoke of immense talent. Pleasurable watch.
Cinematography was brilliant to say the least. It lovingly captured fine nuances both in the characters and locales. Never for a second out of sync with the mood of the scene.
Its a pity that Bollywood will never take cognisance of stories/ Directors/ cinema of this kind..since our Bihari babus, masses, in general would rather be entertained in the crassiest of denotations. Its not as if there is a paucity Mira Nairs or Shekhar Kapurs in India.What is of shameful dearth is Twentieth Century Fox willing to back them!!