By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Sometimes 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
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
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.