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The Namesake (2006)

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

After my unsuccessful attempt to re-experience the act of crying while watching a movie via Charlie St. Cloud, I decided to watch “The Namesake”. The last time I cried like a baby due to a movie was my first viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and that was about 3 or 4 years ago. Before that, it was watching “The Notebook” for the first time – because  you have to admit, as cheesy as the entire movie is – its last few minutes just hits you and you’re biologically inclined to weep no matter how much you try not to. I saw an episode of Sports Night a few days ago that made me cry too, it was the one about Dana’s little brother – which made me miss my little brother more; hence, the weeping. But i was a bit sleepy then so it wasn’t a full-blown cryfest and days after I had this need to really experience that rejuvenating feeling of crying while watching a film. If you haven’t done it you should try. It’s actually an enjoyable experience – to connect to the screen in such a visceral way – it’s refreshing.

So anyway, I watched “the Namesake” to satisfy this weird need and guess what? Need not satisfied. But don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful movie. Superior acting from my Bollywood favorite Irrfan Khan as always, Kal Pen’s struggle not to act like Kumar paid off, and this actress named Tabu is my new Bollywood favorite. Mira Nair, as expected, did not fail me and delivered a great cinematic experience.

The film is a story about Gogol, an Indian boy who was born in New York to immigrant parents, who, like most second generation immigrants, is lost between the 2 cultures he lives with. I understood the character’s struggles, imagining it would somehow be similar with what my kids may go through if we end up staying in, as Ashima has noted, “this very lonely country”. But as the first generation immigrants my story was not Gogol’s but Ashima’s, Gogol’s mother – and this is where my cryfest problem lie.

This Bollywood actress playing the role, simply named Tabu, delivered an all too convincing performance of a typical traditional Indian wife.  A woman, who despite the magnitude and spectrum of emotions and passion she has, manages to display this calm and timid exterior that to me epitomizes the power of femininity. A power  I can only hope for, being the expressive freak that I am. Her solid performance was very well contained to the limits of her appropriateness that it prevented me to express the full range of emotions that I was feeling while watching her story – that’s how good she was. I would have to say that this is my new favorite Mira Nair film – and kudos to her for successfully telling the story of first-generation immigrants of our time regardless of culture and race by sticking with the not so dramatic but real life experiences that is not so easy to tell. Watching the film, one can see that this is clearly drawn from life due to its many subtleties that only truth can offer. 

Due to the spectacular performance of the cast, authentic storytelling, and the artful direction that Mira Nair has accomplished, not one part of “the Namesake” feels contrived – atypical of what Bollywood regularly offers.  I think this is the reason why Mira Nair is a cut above the rest. And maybe why Bollywood and some Indian friends I know sometimes resent her even when they shouldn’t. Mira Nair simply tells the story as she knows how – divided by the 2 cultures she obviously live with. We are all products of our past and our present, we should never, or at the very  least try not to, apologize for that.

I did not get the cryfest I wanted. Still, it was a good movie – more that what I have expected. Now if only I can have this need satisfied.

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