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The Namesake

What Makes Us Who We Are

Names are important. They are what make us who we are in both a literal and profound way. They are how the world sees you and how you see yourself in the world. I was named by one of my aunts and I am grateful that she gave me a powerful, unique appellative; my name means "something which is not possible" in Hindi. However, it was a difficult name to have growing up in this country around non-Indians who neither knew its meaning nor knew how to properly pronounce it. One of the protagonists in the film The Namesake has had a similar experience to mine.

Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn), named after a famous Russian author by his Bengali Indian father Askoke (Irrfan Khan who is AMAZING here), both loves and hates his namesake. He does not know why his reticent father decided to name him such and upon reaching adulthood chooses to go by a more Americanized moniker. In fact, Gogol chooses a lot of things different from his parents.

For example, he has an American (read: Caucasian) girlfriend Max (Jacinda Barrett) who doesn't quite understand his cultural background, which is apparent before she even meets his family. But you can't blame her as Gogol has not yet wrestled with his identity himself. Is he Indian or is he American? And what does it mean to be either? But soon a situation arises which forces him to explore what it means to be an Indian American (really any ethnicity could be substituted for "Indian").

However, Gogol's search for identity is but only one of the major storylines here. The second, and in my opinion more powerful, is that of his parents: Ashoke and Ashima (Tabu). The Namesake is also the story of their relationship and their struggles as immigrants in this country. Their love story is the heart of the film.

Based on the novel by Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri and directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair), The Namesake is many things. It is a story of the immigrant experience, a search for identity, a drama, a romance and a cultural exploration.

It is leisurely paced and possesses a poetic sensibility. That is not to say that it is grandiose or lofty but that it has a refinement about it. While Kal Penn, known best for his comedic talents, shows us that he can take on more serious roles, it is Irrfan Khan and Tabu who steal the show. No matter how young and nubile the other actors are, they cannot compete with such experience and raw talent.

First-generation Americans and immigrants will be able to relate to the film on a very deep level while other moviegoers will be captivated by the compelling story and strong characters. The Namesake is one of the best movies of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars