Subhash K Jha speaks on The Namesake ...

By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM

imageSometimes an absence is also a kind of presence. Take The Namesake.

Irrfan Khan as Prof Ashoke Ganguly suddenly dies on his wife, leaving

what looks like stretches of aching silences in the bereft Ashima's life.

And yet, look at life's ironies…the death of the patriarch in this

malfunctional Bengali family in New York triggers off a stretch of mending

and nurturing that culminates in a kind of healing that signifies a beginning

born out of an end.

Mira Nair's new film is so tender at heart you often forget these are

actors enacting scenes from a well-known Pultizer-prize winning


The actors lose their plumes so completely; we don't even get the

chance to be astonished by the subtle craft that underlines almost every

moment in this mellow migratory drama.

The cross-generational conflict between a first-generation Bengali

family in the US and their culturally confused kids is aligned by a soft

hyphenated humour that propels the poignant plot without making the

highlights in the Ganguly family's journey from Kolkata to the US seem like

an ostentatious migratory pilgrimage.

Mira Nair stays wedded to a muted emotional expression even in the

strongest moments of drama. When Ashima, now a Bengali housewife fully

acclimatized to the often-peculiar and savagely funny cultural

contradictions of America, suddenly loses her husband, Nair takes her

actress Tabu into the deserted but brightly lit streets of the US for her

breakdown scene.

The changes in the climate are never underlined to punctuate the

drama. Instead Nair lets the snow and the sun swathe the film's moistened


More than anything else Mira Nair's film is a homage to the apparently

dwindling family ties in the strangely self-serving social structure of modern

times where self-gratification almost invariably outdistances the needs of

the larger familial unit.

The cutting often savagely satirical dialogues slice through the lives of

these disoriented characters defining their geo-political insolvency in scenes

that accentuate the quirky ethnicity of a Bengali family ensconced in the

American Dream.

Such is the lyrical simplicity of Mira's storytelling that we are

frequently left with a feeling that sequences should've gone a little further, a

little deeper into the characters' collective and individual predicament.

Yes, the end-game is slightly stifling in its celerity. The episode about

Ashoke and Ashima's son Gogol's Bengali wife's extra-marital affair with a

French lover seems a trifled hurried and out of pace with the gentle

swaying movements of the rest of the narration.
It's almost as though time was running out on the people Mira has so

lovingly carved into living entities on screen.
The sense of unhurried lives moving away from the breathless impulses of

a civilization that has no patience with lyricism and literature imbues The

Namesake with a feeling of prideful dramatic exploration, equally

reamarkable for what is said and what remains unsaid.

Scenes between Tabu and Irrfan are outstanding in their correct

unhastened manoeuvres signifying the long-term momentum of an arranged

marriage culminating in a quiet unstated love between the couple.

Both Irrfan and Tabu are exceptional. Irrfan replicates the body

language and the spoken words of his Bengali NRI's character less

strenuously than Tabu. But her expressions of wifely devotion and

motherly anguish are to die for. Here's an actress who proves there's more

to acting than meets the eye.

Kal Penn as the plot's fulcrum of cultural displacement gets the gait

and the eventual poignancy of historical reclamation right. And so does the

rest of the vast cast of seasoned and professional actors who get together

to celebrate the rites and rhythms of cultural reclamation.

Suffused with a superbly sensuous supporting performances and

steeped in an ethos of enormous cultural reverberation in The Namesake

the acutely lyrical camera takes us from the quiet streets of New York to

the picture-postcard bustle of Kolkata, creating in the journey a passage

into a world where hands reach out across colours and continents to

caress the soul.