More than a chick flick, Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel combines the intimate pleasures of a family saga with a finely sustained inquiry into the difficult balance between separation and integration that shapes first-generation emigres and their children in crucially different ways. Dividing its time between the fortunes of Ashima (ravishing Indian star Tabu), a Bengali immigrant to New York, and those of her anxiously Americanized son Gogol (Kal Penn), The Namesake carries faint echoes of the carnal physicality that makes Nair's more lightweight movies so much fun to look at. But it's a quietly mature work, shot with muted elegance by Frederick Elmes as it moves between the heat and dust of Calcutta and the ice and slush of New York suburbia. Though the movie never fully resolves the formlessness of Lahiri's novel, its looseness both defines the predicament of the second-generation immigrant and underscores his strategic edge in navigating the fluidity of urban life. We leave Gogol, still figuring out the eternal dance between adaptation to the new world, defensive reactivity to the old, and the longing for roots. Only now he understands that the dance never ends, that it has its own grace and benediction.
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Sooni Taraporevala
Producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Mira Nair, Ronnie Screwvala, Yasushi Kotani and Taizo Son
Cast: Kal Penn, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Zuleikha Robinson, Jacinda Barrett, Glenne Headly, Brooke Smith, Sahira Nair and Jessica Blank