Friday, April 06, 2007

The Namesake, and what it stirs up..

**I could have called this a spoiler warning, but really, there is nothing about the movie that can be divulged.**

Books are beautiful. They weave stories, images, characters around the reader. But these images don't always translate into pictures, moving pictures or movies.

The Namesake (ध नेमसेक) is one such story. The characters, the flow, the performance, the direction and the editing are all flawless. So are the locales. But the only flaw in the movie is that it is not meant to be a movie. It is a book. And it is meant to be only a book.

I have not read the original. But the movie has been made so beautifully, that I can imagine how wonderful the book must be. The movie just makes for a wonderful read. Nothing more. And that hurts. Jhumpa Lahiri is a very good writer. Which reflects in the movie. But whoever did the screenplay and adaption, forgot to make the book into a movie.

The story sketches the life of a Bengali family settled in New York. And like a book which sketches the lives of several characters, even this follows the various dramas, loves, loses and lives. Among the many kinds of loves shown in this movie, the love shared between Ashok(Irfan) and Ashima(Tabu) is the most beautiful. It is a quiet kind of love, which I imagine the generation above us has actually gone through. Their yearning for India too is another kind of love. Then is their love for their children, Sonia(Sahira Nair) and Gogol ( Kal Penn). Also, there is Ashok's love for Nikolai Gogol and his book, The Overcoat. And the reason why he named his son so. "We all came from The Overcoat, remember that," he says forebodingly.

We follow the lives of their children and their growing up process. Typical teenagers, grow up to be typical Americanized Indians. Sonia is sidetracked quite a bit, because the story, as the name suggests, is about the namesake of Gogol the author. Gogol distances himself from his parents, believes in living life the American way and keeping distance within the family. But when his father passes away, he realizes his true self. Or True Indian Self. He comes back to home, and everything homely. Spends time with his family. Enter new love. Falls for a Bengali family friend, who has had a dubious past, and marries her. Gogol and Bong Beauty Maushumi. But life is not blissful after marriage as Moushami returns to her dubious and very French past.

And finally Gogol finds freedom in the most unimaginable way. While Ashima, returns to her motherland to restart her singing since that gives her true peace. Sonia is happily married to an American, who does try his best to fit into the great Indian Bengali Family, and is pretty accepted too.

With a cast full of stunning performers like Kal Penn, Tabu and Irfan Khan, being directed by Mira Nair, the movie is bound to be good. But if you are more of a book reader kinds, I think you might leave the theatre with a craving for the book. At best, the movie act like a trailer or an advert for the book, because it will compel you to acquire the book and read it to be able to be sated with the story and the thoughts started by the movie.

I wondered for sometime after the movie was over. I was trying to gather my thoughts to be able to comment on the movie. And while I commented, there was a nagging thought in my mind.

Marriage is not disposable

Gogol accepts Maushami and all her baggage। Like a true Indian Boyfriend, he asks her how many lovers she has had। And like a True Americanized youth, he lets it go when lady love bites his lip and says, "You don't want to know". No problems with this bit. He asked, she shrugged it off and so did he. And then they got married.

Then why is it important to show their marriage breaking up because she is going back to her past. Is marriage that disposable? This thought comes just a few days after I chatted with a few girl-friends and wise people about what compromises a woman. A lot of affairs and boyfriends?

One friend, P, very conservative, shook her head and said, "If a woman has a lot of love affairs, she is characterless"

Another, T, who I consider quite broadminded, because of her carrying-ons, agreed. But when i put the question again in front of her, asking her if she truly believes that a woman who has had a number of boyfriends is characterless. Someone who dates a guy, has a relationship, the relationship reaches a point where it ends, and then she gets over it, and dates someone new.

"Uh.. putting it that way, maybe not," she says.

Another wise one says, "A woman who sells her body for money to fill her stomach is more respectable than one who uses it for pleasure." Thus spake the wise one. I still fail to understand or agree with this one. But there are some people who's philosophies in life can NOT be changed. Today as I blog about this and open this to discussion, I will also put up this debate in front of my oldest friends. And see what they have to say about this.

After they finish hitting me for making the mood heavy.


chintan said...

well...some of my friends told me its a good office head has arranged for all office staff to have a see at dis R lets c...whter i like dis movie or not..

PS: meanswhile its about 7. AM... ;-) and u 4got something

Anonymous Economist said...

I think that the number of lovers a person has had tells us as little about their character as the number of their past tennis partners--an astronomical figure makes you fear that they are lousy players who might hit you on the head with a racquet, but anything below that is fine.

If by 'boyfriend' you only mean relationships with serious emotional investment, I can't still see why we must subscribe to "till death do us part".

Yes, someone who disregards all that has gone into building up a relationship and smashes it on a whim is characterless. Someone who lets the other person make all the investment and does not commit herself is characterless.

But if someone walks away from a relationship because she realizes that continuing it is possible only by denying her own right to grow as a person or by being dishonest, then that person is a hero.

Anonymous Economist said...

But I didn't understand the main thing about 'The Namesake'--the use of Gogol's 'Overcoat'. Is there an essential link between Gogol's story about an exploited clerk in Tsarist Russia and the story of two generations of NRIs? Or did they just need some work by some author with a strange (to Americans) name?

Anonymous said...

i have major issues with every analysis you have presented in this blog.
but out of my undying love for your writing and out of recogition of my own overly critical view on everything,
i will only emphasize:
you have asked the question of how a woman's sexual past defines/affects her character. excellent theme to ponder. but why must this be directly related with a sense of "characterless-ness". how in gods name can any person, no matter how nondescript, be "characterless"?
. if you are trying to directly relate the hindi word "charitraheen" to this discussion, something might be lost in translation here.
i suggest you ask more of you interviewees than these blank statements that can be reduced to no tangible meaning whatsoever. to begin with ask them what to them is the connotation of the word "slut"...

Anonymous Economist said...

Anonymous, sir/ma'am, as a fellow anon so well-versed in the ways of the English language, can you help me on one point:

what is the male equivalent of the word 'slut'?

Pragni~The Dream Catcher~ said...

Chintan-Hope you enjoyed your movie!! and what did I forget??

Anon Econ - I totally agree, and to top it all, character is not defined by either!! and your perspective is another dimension to the argument..
About Gogol, I used to think that I am one of the offbeat pictures kind of Audience, but after The Namesake, I seriously doubt it. I dont understand the connection, and I would say that the movie has used it just as a link. I am working on the book now, so I'll let you know if something else comes from the book. Plus I dint love the movie to bits, so I cant point out the finer things in it, maybe we should hunt the blogosphere for someone who loved the movie to bits and riddle them.

Anonymous - First, I am surprised that there is someone who claims undying love for my writing, and your views, overly critical or otherwise, are welcome.
About your observation on Charitraheen, I am surprised but you are absolutely correct. I guess that IS where this term comes from.
Also my point was exactly the one you have raised, that how can determine character from such things. While I think you might taking the term characterless too literally, figuratively too, it is highly judgemental to mould it into such pre-set moulds.
And as for the connotation of the word "Slut", Iam asking people who I know are going to have diverse opinions. Some are othodox, some are superficially modern while some are plain logical. I am sure I will come up with a weird mix of answers when i do this interview. But I will. And that wil deserve another post.

Anon Econ - This does not come from me, but from another very intelligent person, with whom I am in full agreement.

Where does gender come in here? Why search for a male equivalent for Slut.

Anonymous Economist said...

I asked about the male equivalent of 'slut' because if no such equivalent exists (which I think is the case), then it shows that 'slut' is part of the vocabulary which supports sexual double standards for men and women.

Think about the stories of Don Juan or Casanova. Where they sluts? What if they had been women?

Anonymous Economist said...

Oops! 'Where'='Were'

'nonnymus said...

Mmmm. Very precise thinking. Judging smone as characterless based on the number of affairs they've had is indeed prejudice. But then it does set an impression..
modern life's complicated

creative genius said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Blaze said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pragni~The Dream Catcher~ said...

Jenny (Kanchu) - I know all this, this is the obvious part of it. But why has Jhumpa Lahiri chosen Gogol of all authors?? just because he has a.. umm.. weird last name?? or is there some other reason??

Jenny Blaze said...

Hmm..I googled earlier...people have compared Gogol Ganguli's struggle (in his fight to come to terms with a name he hadnt chosen) to that of d protagonist in "the overcoat"..since his station in life is obviously not of his choosing...but i didnt find it v satisfying or reliable.
This is what Lahiri has to say: "The original spark of the book was the fact that a friend of my cousin's in India had the pet name Gogol...
...Of course, without the inspiration of Nikolai Gogol, without his name and without his writing, my novel would never have been conceived. In that respect, this book came out of Gogol's overcoat, quite literally.
But even she gives no reason why.

Pragni~The Dream Catcher~ said...

and the question persists... WHY?? Im done with the book, needless to say it was an awesome read. But it still doesnt solve my problem. And after reading the book, I can just gape open mouthed at the short joke the film was. Gogol was never teased about his name by anyone!! the weirdness of his name was all inhis head. It changes the meaning of the entire film. I don't know how Mira Nair could make such a blunder...