The 2006 film is based on a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and tells the story of stars Kal Penn as Gogol, a young Indian American whose name, chosen by his parents Ashoke and Ashima (Tabu) after the Russian writer, causes him to question his identity.
Themes of identity and belonging abound – is he a first-generation American or from a long line of Bengali ancestors? And what of his mother’s journey from a headstrong young woman living in Kolkata to a young wife, then mother, then not-so-young woman living in the US.
Its dual focus relegates Ashima’s husband Ashoke, played by Irrfan Khan, and more so her daughter, to supporting players in the drama.
The story picks on some interesting themes, particularly in how the children of first-generation immigrants adjust to growing up in a world quite different from that their parents knew as children.
But its storyline of Indian immigrants moving to America (for which here, as so often, read New York) felt a little too familiar.
It wasn’t as though I expected Shah Rukh Khan to suddenly hop up on the Manhatten Bridge
and do a guest turn. But watching The Namesake after reading The Inheritance of Loss and watching Aa Ab Laut Chalen, I did find myself confusing their various takes on Indians coming to America.
So, now, looking back on The Namesake I find characters and situations from other stories turning up in my recollection of the film (though I’m probably imagining Salman Khan’s boardwalk music number).
Despite my confusion, the film – predominantly shot in English with just a smattering of Bengali – was an enjoyable and thoughtful ‘time pass’.