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2006 films

The Namesake

a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

The Namesake
is a beautiful new film about an Indian family, the Ganguli’s, living in the United States.  In the opening scenes, Ashoki returns to his native Calcutta from New York, where he is a struggling graduate student, to marry the lovely Ashima.  After the wedding, Ashoki brings Ashima to New York, where she struggles with the different culture, homesickness, and cold weather.  Within a few years, Ashoki gets a teaching job and the couple is able to buy a comfortable suburban house where they move with their young children, Gogol and Sonia.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in which there is such a strong, loving family without becoming overly sentimental, or reverting to some disaster or horror theme.  The Namesake affirms the need for culture and family in order to make the necessary adjustment from childhood to adulthood.  The family is not perfect by any means:  Ashoki can be distant, and Ashima is overly anxious about her children.  Gogol and Sonia want to be American kids like any others, and attempt to cast aside their Indian heritage.  Gogol’s struggle with his unusual name (Ashoki names him after the Russian writer) is one of the major themes of the film.  As a young man, he takes the nickname, “Nick” rather than Gogol.  Eventually, though Gogol and Sonia learn to live in America and maintain that delicate balance between their Indian traditions and the American culture. 

There are many scenes which brought tears to my eyes as the Gangulis deal with the everyday struggles of life, death, family, and relationships:  Ashoki tries to cheer up homesick Ashima, Gogol moves to the city, falls in love, and ignores his parents, Ashoki leaves Ashima to do a sabbatical in Ohio.  The drama is made of the stuff of life, highlighted by the cultural differences.  My only problem with The Namesake is its length.  It seems long and episodic toward the end, especially dealing with Gogol’s love life as a young architect in Manhattan.  However, The Namesake ends on a beautiful note, in which Ashima fulfills one of her life’s dreams, and manages to bridge the gap between the home of her birth and her new home, in a way that only she can do.

No doubt Indian director Mira Nair incorporates her own experiences as she relates the Ganguli family saga in such an authentic fashion.  Nothing comes across and false or forced as the family saga unfolds.  Location filming and the use of native costumes do much to convey the cultural themes in the story. 

The Namesake is very relevant in our current world as we struggle with issues of culture, identity and values in our post-modern world, and the continuing debates over immigration.  It never comes across as “preachy”.  Instead, the messages are found in the story of one particular family and their search across two continents to discover their identity.  The love of the Ganguli’s will remain with you long after the movie is over.

Tom Condon, OP   



"I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in which there is such a strong, loving family without becoming overly sentimental..."

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