American media goes gaga over Mira Nair's "The Namesake" ...

By Arun Kumar, Indo-Asian News Service

imageWashington, March 10 (IANS) Indian American director Mira Nair's latest venture "The Namesake," is emerging as one of the best reviewed Indian films ever in the US market going by a string of positive reviews in the mainline media.

An adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's popular novel, the film was released Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto and opens next week in Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle, and Vancouver.

Indian American actor Kal Penn too received consistently powerful reviews for his lead performance.

The New York Times said the film "conveys a palpable sense of people as living, breathing creatures who are far more complex than their words might indicate."

"The story of upwardly mobile immigrants torn between tradition and modernity as they are absorbed into the American melting pot has been told in countless movies. This variation is gentle and compassionate. The longing for roots of these displaced middle-class Indians lends a soulful undertow to a film conspicuously lacking in melodrama."

"Its steady, unhurried pace, its fascination with the rituals of daily life and its deep respect for characters who are continually evolving lift "The Namesake" above high-end soap opera. It may lack epic grandeur, but by the end you feel you know these people well enough to keep in step with their internal rhythms," it said.

The Los Angeles Times said, "Mira Nair has repeatedly enacted tales of culture clash in her films but never with quite as much warmth and thoughtfulness as she brings to "The Namesake."

"Coming off a botched literary adaptation - the garbled, proto-feminist take on William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" - she turns her attention to a novel that is not only more manageably scaled but also, for this expatriate filmmaker, surely closer to home."

"Despite being rooted in knotty issues of identity, Lahiri's novel forgoes didacticism in favour of vivid portraiture. Nair and her uniformly superb cast take the same tack: The characters are individuals before they are emblems," it said.

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman said, "When a director is as humane as Mira Nair, it's easy to think of her gift as the 'simple' ability to bathe everyone on screen in a glow of understanding."

"Nair's work is certainly empathic (and also funny and sexy and rueful), yet watching The Namesake, her moving and marvellous new cross-cultural family saga, I was struck by the nearly sculptural skill with which she expresses that spirit."

Variety said, "Bolstered by Nair's lush visual style and superb performances from ace Bollywood thesps Irrfan Khan, Tabu and "Harold & Kumar" star Kal Penn (in his first dramatic lead), Fox Searchlight can expect above-average arthouse business for this audience-pleasing March release."

"Penn-who has long seemed one of the brightest and most likable young comic talents around-shows serious dramatic chops as he takes us on Nick/Gogol's expansive odyssey from the proverbial American-Born Confused Desi to a confident young man with a sure sense of his past, his present and his future," it said.

Newsday said, Nair and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, "who have lavished affectionate detail upon this adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's bestselling novel, reassert the power of the personal and the specific to speak to the greatest number of hearts."

"The actors are so engaging and the settings often so seductive, we pleasurably submit to what is essentially a two-hour penance for all the hurt and wrongs one has ever inflicted upon one's parents. "The Namesake" may be the loveliest guilt trip you will ever take," it said.

Premiere found the film "a thoroughly engaging, terrifically moving family story that's rich in beautifully observed and lovingly conveyed human detail."

The New York Post said, "...this gorgeously designed and photographed movie artfully depicts the immigrant experience in ways that transcend its setting, melding Hollywood and Bollywood storytelling techniques to weave a tale a large audience will relate to."

"Penn's charismatic, loose-limbed work as the confused Gogol helps Nair avoid the earnestness that afflicts so many films of this kind, and he's quite capable of handling the big dramatic moments as well. You don't have to be Indian to love "The Namesake," it said.

New York Daily News found the film "suffused with radiant grace, and manages to be old-fashioned yet immediate, epic and intimate."

And "metroblog: movies" called it "a labour of love by a talented filmmaker; if only Nair had adopted a less-is-more approach to her adaptation, her very good film might have been a great one."