Student Model: Film Review

Mira Nair's The Namesake
by Ashley Morgan

Fall 2008

The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair, with its screenplay by Sooni Sraporevala, is based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Released in the on March 9, 2007, this drama depicts a Bengali famil's assimilation into the United States, and contains a scene where the novelist appeared. This emotional realistic drama shows the traumas, successes, and pain that a family mght experience when moving to another country, and brilliantly stays true to the India roots of the novel. In the story, Ashoke (Irrhan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) Ganguli move to the United States directly after their arranged marriage. Ashoke maintains employment as a professor, while Ashima is left at home to raise the couple's two children, Gogol and Sonia. Both children seem to become Americanized, but Ashima must struggle to live in America and invent herself a new family and India until the conclusion of the movie when she finally seems to discover some independance and returns to India part-time.

The film uses landscape, background, and visual images to tell part of the story that is not verbalized. The viewer is given a front row seat in India, as the movie shows the landscape during Ashoke's train accident. The viewer sees the poor conditions, the crowded streets, the ill-lit train car, and the overall colors that capture this specific country and its culture, all so different from the US. When the Ganguli family returns to India to visit their relatives, once more the landscape and setting is shown as Gogol runs through the streets, and the family vist the Taj Mahal. Gogol seems to fall in love with architecture through this visit, and the viewer could gather from this moment that the landscape is used to tell a story far greater than the lines stated between the actors and the particular story. The extended family is seen looking contented, music is sung, and the streets look much less depressing (impoverished) than in the earlier train scene.

At the beginning of the film, Ashima is shown experiencing great difficulty upon her move to America. She wordlessly roams about the small apartment, looks out the window, eats her strange concoction of rice krispies, peanut butter, and curry. She looks as if she feels stranded and very unused to being all by herself. Eventually the film pans out to show Ashima walking down the street and feeling alone in the laundrymat. She is not verbalizing how lonely she is, yet the film effectively conveys her isolation (as she feels it) through the use of setting, background, and landscape. The quiet of winter contrasts to the lively noise of India in summer. The contrasts are all strong and makes the point of how a woman from a traditional culture might experience the US.

The scene that depicts Ashoke many years later walking around the pool near his apartment before he died grabbed my attention just as strongly. The voice-over is Ashoke recalling his daily activities and the camera pans out to show the entire pool area with Ahoke seemingly limping around it. Gogol later visits this father's apartment, imagines his father returning to this empty, silent, grey-colored neutral space when the father comes home from teaching and researching. Gogol feels for his father all alone and we remember the mother when young. Ashoke slips on his father's shoes and again we remember this is what Ashima did just before her marriage to Ashoke was arranged. In these scenes the landscape and visual images are used to show how alone Ashoke was in Cleveland. He was trying to make the best of his circumstances, but even during his last days, his apartment seemed bare, empty. The depiction of his daily walks seemed so isolated and repetitive, and his existence far away from the comfortable environment that Ashima had managed to build with him in Boston. Gogol is trying to connect with Ashoke and feel what his life was, but we make a bigger connection and wonder if the stress of being so far away and alone and his age and weariness killed Ashoke.

Film adaptations from novels have the unique difficulty of conveying emotions of character's inner lives as well as what impinges on them. Not every situation or emotion can be verbalized and the film, The Namesake displays the film-makers' abiilty exists to convey far more through montages, visual gestures and the actors silently living in front of us, and mise-en-scene in general than through words. The viewer is left to interpret exactly what is taking place, but if the actor and visual image is done well enough, the idea will come across.

The Namesake, the movie, in my view was a journey of visual imagination that conveyed the inner lives and outward experiences of the characters in such a way that emotional connections were made between them and their past in India and their pasts with one another. This is a film as brilliant as the novel from which it was made, and brings out both the novel's inner issues and forces as well as providing a new emphasis and experience.

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Page Last Updated: 20 August 2009.