Monday, May 28, 2007

A Film to Ponder: “The Namesake”

There is such power in the naming of things, especially the names we choose for our children. In this film, the act of naming and the acceptance by the child of his name is a central theme, though it is not the only one by any means.

The Baron and I don’t get out to see movies much. The trip to town is long, and life around Schloss Bodissey keeps us busy. Besides, as bloggers know, one tends to become a bit tied to one’s blog, as though it were a demanding toddler needing constant attention so it won’t roll off the bed, or stick its curious fingers into electric sockets, or heaven forbid, get lost in the maze of cyberspace.

However, it was my birthday a few days ago so we decided to celebrate by going out to eat (hurray for employment!) and seeing a film. The future Baron talked us into sushi, and from there we walked the block or so to the theatre.

We saw an American-Calcutta film, “The Namesake.” I don’t care for reviews which repeat the story line. I’m more interested in what the director is trying to show me.

NamesakeFor starters, the director is Mira Nair. If you saw any of her other films, you will understand the attraction of her work. Ms. Nair lets the components of her characters build slowly until you begin to understand, just a little, who they are and what drives them. In “The Namesake” you can re-live, for a few hours, the process of building your own relationships over time. She lures you into identifying with each character, even the “villains” - if such they be.

Ms. Nair is a brilliant director. She uses the extremes that can exist in climate and culture to point to the emotional effects that these differences evoke…all without ever stating explicitly what they are. You simply experience the difference between a snowy New York City and a steamy Kolkata (Calcutta). You experience the sense of dislocation caused by existing in these two extremes, and the gradual integration - in at least one of the individuals - of the cultural clashes and their effects on character.
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Thus, the film is truly multi-cultural, as that word was meant originally: the ability to exist wholly in two places, even though one’s heart always belongs to our earliest experience. Thus, the mother, raised in India, is a stranger in a strange land in America, but she has made her peace with it. Her children, American born and raised, are visitors to their ancestral home…nice place to visit but who would want to live there?

The family visit to the Taj Mahal makes a visual impact beyond the mere filming of architecture. You become, momentarily, a part of that beauty; you stand in the place of the grieving lover who caused it to be created and the builders who brought that love into being. It is as though the Taj Mahal exists out of necessity.

This is a film to see, and it is one to own. Whatever your age - and this work would be suitable for adolescents and adults - you will identify in some measure with the life’s journey of Nair’s characters.


Zerosumgame said...

While I'm not much of a movie goer, I live in New Jersey, and at one time lived in a town where almost a third of the population was Indian immigrants.

I saw this assimilation first hand.

As a Jew, I could especially appreciate one aspect of the acculturation - the dietary. You knew Hindu kids were assimilated when they started eating meat -- that was a big cultural divide, just as when early Jewish immigrants first crossed the cultural divide by eating non-kosher, then eating meat and cheese together, then the really assimilated ones eating pork.

But being Jewish, at the risk of sounding snotty, I have found some sympathy, and indeed, affinity, for Asian immigrants, due to their strong emphasis on education, and their disproportionate academic and economic success.

Always On Watch said...

A film made in the original sense of multiculturalism.

I'll probably wait for the DVD, but this film will be on my list should I find time to go to the theater.

Dymphna said...


Having grown up in a Catholic ghetto it was much the same. Only the accidentals varied.

My elderly Jewish cousin-in-law (a Southern Jew from Memphis, at that) is a widower. My elderly Irish cousin, his wife, died a few years ago.

But over the years he had somehow become the one in the extended family who prepared the ham for the Christmas holiday. At one meal I asked him, since he had brought the meat, if he wanted to bless the meal. He responded drily: "it's bad enough I cooked it. Don't ask me to bless the darn thing."

Always: this film makes the transition to DVD easily, except for the part filmed around and in the Taj Mahal. I am going to buy the DVD, though. It's a keeper. Better than her previous, "Monsoon Wedding."

The KnickerBlogger said...

I saw this in the theatres twice an highly recommend the book. I am fan of Indian cinema (though this is not a "Bollywood" film Khan and Tabu are both stars in India)
If you're interested there is an interview on charlie rose's site with the author and director - sort of interesting.
I am White, Anglo-Saxon and have no sympathy for the 'immigrant experience' but I liked this film and its subtle but accurate depiction of the emptiness of American white uppper class values - the scene where "Max" says she wants to experience throwing Googal's fathers ashes with him was subtle-but-priceless.
But as a side comment about Multiculturalism - Indians are beginging to play the same ethnic identity politics here - especially the younger generations and their hostility towards whites- AngloSaxons in particular, is on the rise, the movie also subtly showed this when they come back from India - and some kids spray painted their mailbox the father say's its just a prank Gogal screams RACISTS!

Tushar Saxena said...


I know what you're talking about. As an international student from India, on a personal level, more than 99% of Indian origin people I've encountered were almost wholly unhostile to their host country (US) whereas online I see the proliferation of more blame-the-white-man mentality on blogs like Sepia Mutiny where marxist rhetoric is spewed so regularly, one gets accustomed to it.

I fear it was bound to happen. The percolation of leftism/marxism that is. This is due to the little known fact (maybe im wrong) that India has, perhaps, after soviet Russia, the largest self-perpetuating Marxist/Communist establishment in history. Forget about "multicultural" US universities, you cannot compare. I'm talking about pure Marxism-Leninism. Visit a college or two in Calcutta and you'll see what I'm talking about--or the famous Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

And whats more? The Communist Party of India (Marxist) rules the states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and have 40 seats in the national parliament.

So, yes my friends, although the bulk of Indians come to the US to escape all that leftist nonsense that has laid waste of the dreams and toil of millions of their fellow citizens since Independence, the little percolation effect of course remains and grows.

The KnickerBlogger said...

Funny you should mention it, I was just going to use that as an example:
The fastest way to get banned from Sepia Mutiny is to say your white and even be mildly critical of India/ians - even people who identify as Indian and question some of the rhetoric are treated with contempt. Most of the posters, i think are 2nd generation - raised here - and usually affluent.
While I agree with your assement of India (- that it goes far beyond the 'license Raj' , but I don't think the embrace of the PC cult in America and Britain is due to their roots, but rather - knowing that its a source of power in the West - identify as a minority victim and you're half way home to winning an argument if only by intimidation.

Over at isteve, Steve Sailer pointed out that the ideologically left black rappers usually come from upper middle class, educated backgrounds, I think we're seeing the same phenom. here -

Earlier and first generation indians who actually have to make a way for themselves, probably don't have the cushion or wealth or comfort to engage in such rhetoric. Being a limonsine liberal requires you have a limonsine, preferably an inherited on.

Back to the film _ i'd love to see Tabu do more crossover stuff, she's coming out with a comedy with AB - Cheeni Kum - which actually looks quite good.