J and Py Korry At The Movies

The Namesake

J and I were talking about this movie over breakfast on Sunday, and I suggested we do a movie review and chat and post it on our blogs. So here ’tis!

Py Korry Review:

When J and I saw the preview for this film, I turned to her and said “Ooooh, I have to see this film! I think it’s about me.” I didn’t literally think it was about me, rather about Indian kids of my generation who grew up in the U.S. but have parents who immigrated here and struggle with a kind of rootlessness every day.

I’m going to lay my cards on the table upfront and say that I really loved this film. It drew me in from the get go, and held me in its grip until the end credits rolled. I’m not sure if the story was so compelling to me because it had some similar intersections with my own family, but be that as it may, “The Namesake” is a wonderfully layered and character driven drama that will have many fans and few detractors.

The plot is fairly simple: Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Kahn) after surviving a deadly train accident while traveling in India, goes to the U.S. to get his PhD in engineering. He comes back to India and marries Ashima (Tabu) – a 19 year old who has a talent for singing – as arranged by their parents. She moves with him to New York City where both of them try to embrace their new home and all the freedoms/opportunities it promises. When they have a son, Ashoke gives him the name “Gogol,” after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, and the boy grows up in a suburb of New York with this odd name and a family who seems to only socialize with other Bengali families. The conflict in the story comes when Gogol (Kal Penn) wants to split from his family’s traditional Indian ways and forge his own identity by embracing the dominant culture. What Gogol doesn’t quite realize is that his father has resigned himself to the fact that his children will do things the American way (Gogol thinks his father is pressuring him to conform to his Indian culture). Gogol’s mother, however, represents the more traditional part of the Indian family dynamic, and she is very worried about losing the familial and cultural roots as the children grow up and pull away. There’s a muted push and pull between the children and the parents, but eventually there comes a moment of understanding between them – providing the dénouement to the film.

I won’t give it away, but there’s a scene of loss in the film that was handled so well, a scene that had such an emotional punch, J was scrambling for a tissue. We saw the film with my brother, and he even admitted that he got a bit teary during that scene (Okay, it was just one tear, and he said he looked away so no one could see him).

What struck me about that scene is that if it were handled by another director, it would have been much more dramatic and over the top to the point that it would have seemed forced. But because Irfan Khan played the character of Ashoke with such a subtle sadness, the scene that caused the waterworks was much more effective because Kahn was able to express his character’s deep love for his entire family in a way that required him to be distant most of the time. That’s not an easy thing for an actor to do, and it’s a testament to the talent of all the actors involved in the film that they were able to bring out such depth to a story about identity, family, and freedom in the lives of an immigrant family.

I’ll give this film an 8 out of 10 because the story did not focus on a key relationship between the mother and the daughter, and I found it odd that for a film about a family, one of the key members of this group was pushed to the side.

J’ Review:

Saturday morning found Maya selling Girl Scout cookies…and, like always, a Girl Scout event for Maya means free babysitting for us! So, we took advantage of the opportunity to go see a film that Ted has been wanting to see, The Namesake. The Namesake is based on a book by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve read some of her short stories before, but I have not yet read the novel, so I came into the film not really knowing what to expect.

The story starts with a man, Ashoke, who survives a horrible train accident. There is a young woman and her child sitting very close to him on the train, and throughout the film, I had the idea that they were Ashoke’s wife and child, who were killed in the accident. This gave Ashoke a flavor of sadness, of the frailty of life, of knowing that he might lose his family at any time. Later, it turned out that Ted didn’t think they were his family, that they were just people who were sitting near him. I guess I would need to read the book to find out for sure. After the train wreck, Ashoke moves to New York to attend school, and comes home to India when he is ready to be married. His parents arrange a marriage for him with Ashima, a beautiful young woman with a charming sense of humor. When her families are meeting, sealing the deal as it were, Ashoke’s mother asks Ashima if she won’t be lonely all of the way in New York, so far from her family and everything she knows. She coyly asks if Ashoke won’t be there, indicating that she’ll be OK. And she is. The film does a wonderful job of expressing the difficulty that the families have, being separated by continents and oceans, the emptiness of coming to a new land, so foreign to your own. I was touched by the scene with Ashima and Ashoke leaving India, still in their wedding clothes, and the sadness on her mother’s face as she realizes it will be a long time before she sees her daughter again.

Much of the story belongs to Gogol, Ashima and Ashoke’s son. He grows up feeling alienated from much of his culture, wishing to fit in better among his friends and schoolmates. When he is in college, however, and we see him with his first real love, he describes a family trip to her, in which they travel to visit other Bengali families, stopping by the side of the road to eat home cooked Indian feasts. His girlfriend, who has grown up in the lap of luxury, only sees the foreignness of these vacations, and none of the charm. Gogol says to her, “It was nice if you were used to it.” As the story goes on, Gogol learns to come to terms with the duality of his culture, and he embraces his “Indian-ness”.

One of my favorite scenes was when the family went to vacation in India. They went to see the Taj Mahal, and there was a scene between Ashima and Ashoke that was touching. Also, the children seemed to be starting to appreciate their culture in a way that was almost impossible when they were living in the United States. There is another scene, when Ashoke tells Gogol of the train wreck, that is amazing, and has the feeling of Gogol really seeing his father for the first time.

I really enjoyed the film…I thought that the actors all did a marvelous job of conveying their emotions and fears, though the dialogue was somewhat sparse. There were moments that got me, and yeah, I needed a Kleenex.

J and Py Korry discuss the film:

Py Korry: Now that you’ve had some time to think about the film, do you still think Ashoke was married before he met Ashmia?
J: You’ve put some doubt into my mind, but I sure came away from the early scenes thinking he was…there was that certain sadness to him. Maybe it was because of the horridness of the accident itself, that it affected him so deeply. Maybe it had nothing to do with the other people being his family.
Py Korry: I got the feeling he was the only one who survived.
J: Yeah, me too.
Py Korry: This film is about Indians who have immigrated to America. But, what did you think of the way Nair depicted Anglos in the film?
J: I was a bit insulted that the white girlfriend was so shallow, to be honest…She was a spoiled rich girl, and I suspect that’s what the author was trying to convey. Not so much her race. But I was dissapointed that she turned out to care more about their New Years plans than about his grieving, and about his needing to get in touch with his culture.
Py Korry: Really? I was looking at her in terms of what certain characters “stood for.” To me, she was about the dominant culture as the “norm”, and wanting him to “fit in” (i.e., shed the “old ways”). But I agree that she was certainly insensitive to what was going on in Gogol’s family life.
J: Yeah. As a blonde girl myself, in an interracial relationship, I guess I took that a bit personally.
Py Korry: Yeah, but you don’t insist that I forget my Indian roots — what little I have.
J: 🙂 No, of course not. I hope I’m not like her.
Py Korry: No. I think she was a spoiled rich girl who “just wanted to be free!”
J: Yeah. Were you touched by the mother when they left India? As a parent myself now, that kind of got me. The thought of maybe never seeing my child again, or at least not for years…
Py Korry: Yeah, that was sad. Also, the scenes where Ashmia is trying to figure out how to do simple things in Ashoke’s apartment was really well done. I also think the trailer for the film was misleading. I thought it was about Gogol, but it’s really about the family — well, except for Sonia, Gogol’s sister.
J: I wonder if the book is more about Gogol?
Py Korry: I’m curious, too.
J: We might have to pick it up.
Py Korry: It’s also available on iTunes as an audio book.
J: Hmmm. I wonder if I would enjoy listening on my iPod?
Py Korry: I guess it depends on the narration. One other thing that’s kind of bothering me about the film The father explains why Gogol is so important to him (i.e., favorite writer and all that). However, it’s not explained how Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat” is related to what Ashoke believes to be an important lesson in life.
J: I kind of kept expecting that as well. Again, probably handled better with the book…
Py Korry: I’ve never read any Gogol, but I just found out “The Overcoat” is a short story.
J: Must have been a collection they were reading, because the book in the movie was long looking…
Py Korry: So, who do you think this movie will appeal to?
J: Well, clearly anyone who is a transplant from one culture to another. Also fans of the author’s work… And anyone who likes Bollywood, but is interested in seeing something that isn’t a musical.
Py Korry: On a scale of 0 to 10, what score would you give the film?
J: Maybe an 8 or a 9…
Py Korry: I gave it an 8 because they left out the daughter.
J: Yeah…I thought that was too bad. Especially since the mom referred to their improved relationship; their ‘surprising friendship’.
Py Korry: Yeah, and yet there wasn’t any evidence that their relationship was rocky to begin with.
J: Right. But maybe they just got closer when she moved in.
Py Korry: Seems that way. I think the subtitle of this film should be “And remember to call and visit your parents!”
J: (Laughing) Nice! Thank you for treating me to a movie and popcorn!
Py Korry: 🙂

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