East Meets West Meets East
After returning home to Calcutta from American in the 70s Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) marries Ashima (Tabu) through a traditional arranged marriage before heading back to America with his wife where not only do they have to deal with getting to know each other but for Ashima a whole new way of life. Despite initial difficulties as Ashima misses home they settle down and have two children Gogol (Kal Penn) and Sonia (Sahira Nair). But as their children grow up they begin to rebel against the traditions which their parents try to instil into them with Gogol settling down with a white woman. But a crisis brings them home, especially Gogol who feels a need to embrace his heritage like he believes his father wished of him.
"The Namesake" is by no means the first movie I have come across which deals with issues of cultural heritage and teenage rebellion but it is the first I have come across which chooses to shun most of the obvious comedy and instead focus more on the drama and characters. As such whilst there is a certain amount of familiarity to "The Namesake" as we are presented with issues from Ashima struggling with life in America to Gogol thinking his parents ways are old fashioned it has a lot more depth and certainly a lot more beauty.
That depth and beauty starts with Ashima arriving in America where Ashoke had already spent two years and was more use to it. Seeing how Ashoke does things which break with tradition such as making tea for the surprised Ashima is such a simple but beautiful scene as are the letters which Ashima writes home and she remarks about gas being on 24 hours a day are so sweet and innocent that you fall in love with this couple who for one is in a foreign country and for both having to get use to each other having barely met. I will make this even simpler the set up is in truth a beautiful love story of a couple who as it turns out are perfect for each other.
This build up which focuses on Ashoke and Ashima allows us to see them as real people who have had struggles to deal with and so on, so when we then hit the part of the movie where their teenage children start to rebel we feel for them and understand their desire to hold on to traditions. As for what happens when it comes to the story of Gogol and his rebellion but also his return to tradition well it is as beautiful as the build up with Kal Penn showing that he is more than capable when it comes to drama and delivers a sensitive performance, well most of the time although lets rip when being the petulant teenager.
But I tell you what whilst "The Namesake" is really about the character of Gogol and his journey through life I could watch an entire movie just about Ashoke and Ashima and their experiences in America as it is such a beautiful story. And director Mira Nair handles it with such sensitivity that it sucks you in and never lets you go.
What this all boils down to is that "The Namesake" is a beautiful movie from start to finish and one which draws you into the world of a family making their way in America covering two generations. But as I said the build up, the focus on Ashoke and Ashima is so beautiful that I could easily watch an entire movie just about their early years in America and it reminds me why I continue to watch so many movies when so many disappoint as once in a while you get a movie as beautiful as this.