July 25, 2007

My take on Mira Nair’s Namesake

Gogol Ganguly. It takes half the run of the film for the character to come to terms with his name. Gogol. The guy who so named his son is dead and gone mid-way through the movie; and the son, so named, grown up and married, lives on to face ridicule from the partying American friends of his wife, an ABCD (America born confused desi).

Gogol, initially frustrated and, even angry, at his father, comes to accept his name, particularly after his father’s death. He gives up on his wife, who opted to retain her pre-wedding name. Presumably, she doesn’t feel comfortable with being addressed as Mrs Gogol.

What’s there in a name? Nobody seems to ask Gogol this, in the movie. His father, Ashoke had to come up with a name for his new-born on the spur of the moment and Gogol was the first name that came to his mind. He couldn’t think of any other, quickly enough; and mom Ashima, who had ‘Nikhil’ in mind, wouldn’t however name her kid without the sanction of elders in the family in India.

She tries to explain to the doctor at a New York hospital that she had written to her parents and a reply was awaited from Calcutta. Presumably, there was no e-mail then. The doctor cites the hospital rule – no name, no discharge. And that is how Gogol came to be so named by his father. Ashima accepts it in the belief that the family could always give him a better and proper name at the namakaran. .

How was Ashima to know that, unlike in her native Calcutta, a name-change wasn’t that simple a proposition in America? So the lad was stuck with Gogol, much to the amusement of his classmates at school. Years later when his son asks, “why did you do this to me, dad?” Ashoke explains the rationale for naming his son after his favorite Russian author, Nikolay Gogol.

I couldn’t catch what transpires here between father and son. I have problem with accented English, spoken at high speed. Besides, some characters in the movie mumble their lines or speak in whispers on occasions. I don’t know if many others have this problem with the Namesake soundtrack. English-speaking desis such as yours truly, who are not quite with-it with the English spoken in the US, could do with English sub-titles.

Mira Nair’s Namesake is a film with which NRIs can relate. Namesake storyline shuttles between Kolkota and New York. What happens to Ashoke and Ashima could happen to any NRI who sets up family in the U S. The film brings out the critical little concerns of desi parents with growing teenagers who have closer affinity with their American peers than their tradition-bound parents.

Mira Nair’s treatment is nuanced. How does a desi nari living in New York react to her college-going son phoning in to say he has a girl friend and that he would like to bring her home? How do parents cope when Gogol and his American girl turn up for dinner? The director brings out the discernable discomfort of Ashima at seeing her son’s gentle resistance to his girl-friend’s advances to place her hand on his lap or to give him a peck in the cheek in excitement.

It has his mother worried when Gogol’s home visits from the college hostel become less regular and his phone calls get briefer, fewer and far between. Her fears for her son were,presumably, unfounded. On learning of his father’s death Gogol has his head shaved off, as a mark of respect to the departed. When his otherwise orthodox mother tells him, “You need not have done this, son” Gogol responds, “I wanted to do it, mother”. One may read in this a social statement that the NRI youths in the US are all not totally lost to our sanskrithi.


Anonymous said...

My GVK you must read the book as well. I must admit I really didnt care too much for the book or movie. ya really, what is in a name! In fact I think Gogol is an easier name for most Americans to say than Nikhil. So dnt knwo what was his problme!

Maddy said...

I saw the movie and liked it, very well enacted. later i got hold of the gogol short story. that was heavy reading & i am still half way. i have still not figured out the gist of the movie ' we are all coming out of gogol's overcoat'. is it that the story shows all the good and the bad people, showing their true self after gogol purchased his overcoat? I will find out!