DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

The Namesake - DVD Review


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In the midst of love-stricken angst, Shakespeare's Juliet famously posed a question that, throughout history, has sustained its relevance: â"What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." Unfortunately, for most of Gogol Ganguli's (Kal Penn) life as the American son of first generation Indian immigrants, his name has instead served as the rose's thorn. Slowly pricking him with ridicule, alienation and a yearning for American teenage â"normalcy," Gogol's growing contempt for his Indian name and conservative heritage forces an internal struggle between familial segregation and social integration. Unbeknownst to Gogol, however, a battle against tradition will spark a cultural awakening that shall carry him from New York to the Taj Mahal, from tragedy through triumph, expose the true beauty and meaning of his name, and ultimately, empower him to find his way back to the place he tried so desperately to leave behind ... home.

At first glance, Mira Nair's (Hysterical Blindness, Monsoon Wedding) The Namesake beautifully adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri's best-selling novel of the same name appears to solely follow young Gogol on his quest for ethnic enlightenment and redemption from familial abandonment. However, viewers will soon realize that this inspirational family saga truly (and rightly) belongs to Gogol's parents, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli (Irrfan Khan, Tabu). If not for their quiet sacrifices and unspoken love, they would have never persevered half-way across the world, away from the emotional comforts of family and country, simply to afford their future children the boundless opportunities available in the West. Their twenty-five year journey is not only a testament to the immigrant experience but is the foundation of the family structure. Thus, this is their story.

"Pack a pillow and a blanket. See the world. You will never regret it." Those words of a stranger resonated within the young, well-read Ashoke, persuading him to leave Calcutta for the first time and see the beauties abroad. With a New York apartment and professorship in place, Ashoke returns to India, solely to take an Indian bride back to America. Arranged by his parents, the reserved Ashoke is introduced to the beautiful and equally well-read Ashima, whose eagerness to see America overrides the cold winters and loneliness she will face. Married strangers, the new couple immediately departs for their new home where together they will bathe in the simple luxuries of their new country (gas twenty-four hours a day, laundry mats, cul-de-sac homes with lush landscapes), fighting to assimilate without sacrificing their Indian roots.

When Ashima becomes pregnant, we learn that a child's birth name is of great consequence in the Hindu religion; so much so, that the family may ascribe a pet name to the child, often waiting years before the proper name is chosen. However, when the Ganguli's give birth and learn that - in America - their son cannot leave the hospital without a name placed on his birth certificate, Ashoke decides to call his little miracle â"Gogol," in honor of the brilliant Russian mind, Nikolai Gogol. (In a sense, this is one of the couple's first betrayals of Eastern tradition). Ironically enough, it is this meaningful and affectionate term that, while embraced in youth, begins to insulate Gogol from his American classmates and ultimately, becomes the wedge separating his Indian family and American desires.

The Namesake follows the twenty-five year evolution of the Ganguli family; their first steps on foreign soil, balancing the internal cultural conflict between Western-minded children and Eastern-rooted parents, meeting the comprehensive desire for social and self-acceptance, and ultimately, re-discovering that the love that can separate us, is also the one that defines us. Thus, despite its target audience, The Namesake is far more than just a sharply-crafted Indian drama; rather, it is a human one, rich in color, beauty, culture, intellect, heart-felt emotion and the all-embracing struggles of family and self.

Language barriers aside, nothing becomes lost in translation thanks to strong, evolving performances by Khan and Tabu. In a traditional relationship where few words are spoken, each effectively evokes a lifetime of emotions with a single look or a subtle act. But when a frustrated Ashima does raise her usually meek voice to her children, confessing that â"Sometimes, I feel like I have given birth to strangers," you can feel the power and desperation locked within. Likewise, when Ashoke coyly prods his wife to profess her love for him â"like Americans do," you simultaneously feel the inevitable shift from East to West along with the universal longing, no matter how non-traditional, to be openly loved and affectionate with the one you adore.

With a vast amount of material to cover in a limited time-space (122 minutes, to be exact), Nair has undoubtedly painted a stunning portrait of a striving, immigrant family. However, its fast-paced, snapshot effect and unfortunate use of non-essential scenes, prevents it from being a perfect drama. Within mere breaths, Gogol grows from playing beneath a kitchen table, to donning a graduation cap and gown, to working as an architect at a New York City firm, leaving us to feel as if we have been purposely excluded from some crucial and character-shaping moments in the lives of the Ganguli family (not to mention, not getting to know Gogol's sister, Sonia (Sahira Nair)). Instead, inconsequential scenes involving Gogol's courtship, marriage and rolling around in bed with Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson) waste precious time that could have been better expended elsewhere.

Speaking of the women in Gogol's life, it was equally disheartening to see that ex-girlfriend Maxine (Jacinda Barrett, whom the MTV-faithful will recognize from Real World: London), as the prototype of female, social freedom - a privileged, educated, white, Western woman - is left to dry, as the most insensitive and self-consumed of characters. Despite being excluded from Bengali culture at Gogol's own hands, her lack of understanding is portrayed as numb, egotistical and the cause for their separation. Likewise, Moushumi - who is not only educated and sophisticated, but a Bengali woman who also strives to compromise Western and Eastern cultures - is demonized for her life's choices. Granted, both women are vital to Gogol's growth as both a man and member of a Bengali family and can be discussed at length; however, while their actions cost them equally, Gogol's desertion of family and friends is the only one forgiven in the name of cultural identity. Such subtle sexual and cultural bias, coupled with the superfluous scene choices, remain the only stains on Nair's near flawless vision.

In fact, to her credit, Nair has the superb ability to capture life's most tender moments, with uncanny precision and striking visuals. Be it watching the warm wind sweep ashes into the Ganges, or giving birth in a hospital room that overlooks the Hudson, Nair mirrors the passion and pain, calm and confusion, temper and tolerance that pervades these two diverse cities, worlds apart. Moreover, Nair is an emotive storyteller who, by lifting the words from the page, has breathed new life into Pulitzer Prize-winning Lahiri's The Namesake, while uniting a family of cross-cultural movie fans, simply by waving them home. Like the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal, The Namesake is Nair's own monument of love; a cinematic celebration of life, family, love, sacrifice and the universal ties that bind, all while reminding us that the things that frustrate us, can also empower us.


DVD

DVD Details:



Screen Formats: 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish

Language and Sound: English: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; deleted scenes; director's commentary; making-of featurette.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with director Mira Nair
* Featurettes
o Anatomy of The Namesake: A Class at Columbia University's Graduate Film School (32:08)
o Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Kal Penn (3:37)
o Photography as Inspiration (7:54)
o Kolkata Love Poem (3:58)
* Deleted Scenes - Three deleted scenes with an aggregate length of three minutes, two seconds that can be viewed separately or via the "play all" function. The commentary by Mira Nair is optional.
* Previews - theatrical trailer and trailers for In America, Water, The Flying Scotsman and Blind Dating.

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging.

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