out of Five
Running time: 122
Opens London Film Festival: 23rd October
Engaging, beautifully photographed and ultimately moving drama with strong performances throughout.
What's it all about?
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake covers three decades in the life of the Ganguli family. After surviving a horrific train crash, Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) agrees to an arranged marriage with lively singer Ashima (Tabu) in 1977 Calcutta, before relocating to New York to start a family.
Years pass and the Gangulis' son Gogol (Kal Penn), named after Ashoke's favourite author, grows into a promising architect, married to a rich American girl (Jacinda Barrett). However, Gogol struggles to come to terms with his Bengali heritage, neglecting his parents and even going so far as to hide his given name from his wife and her family.
Director Mira Nair brings the same gift for observational detail to The Namesake that she displayed in Monsoon Wedding, aided by sumptuous, richly coloured photography courtesy of cinematographer Frederick Elmes. Some of the shots are simply beautiful, such as an image of snow-covered steps or a tree with red leaves.
The cast are superb: Khan and Tabu make a delightful couple that we really care about, while there's strong support from Sahira Nair (as Gogol's equally Americanised sister). However, the real revelation is Kal Penn (Kumar from Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies), who gives a sensitive, multi-layered performance that is extremely engaging.
Sooni Taraporevala's script is moving and ultimately rewarding, with a strong central theme about exploring the world around us. The only duff note is the casting of Jacinda Barrett, who lets the side down with yet another dull, charisma-free performance. As a result, there's no chemistry between her and Penn, so we don't care all that much about their relationship problems.
An impressively directed, gorgeously photographed drama that is extremely rewarding. It'll also make you want to a) book a holiday to India and b) call your mother. Recommended.