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Last night I was browsing my collection for a movie to watch when my eye fell on The Namesake, one of the most exquisite movies of recent times. Beautifully and lovingly directed by the accomplished and brilliant Mira Nair, the movie is based on the beloved novel by the same name by author Jhumpa Lahiri, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 with her debut story collection Interpreter of Maladies.
This moving story, written with Lahiri’s signature depth and grace, follows Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli (played respectively by Irrfan Khan and Tabu) as they move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, soon after their arranged marriage in Calcutta. Barely knowing each other, they are faced with the challenges of a new life and adapting to a new culture while trying to respect the old traditions of their native India. They name their first child, a son, Gogol (played by Kal Penn), in reference to Ashoke’s favorite author Nikolai Gogol. As Gogol grows up an American, the focus of the story centers more around him, while still keeping Ashoke and Ashima in the picture.
I don’t want to share too many details because I think you should watch the movie, or read the book, or both, and let the story of these extraordinary ordinary people speak to your heart directly. It is a story of family, of clashing cultures, old traditions, and the delicate balancing of parental expectations and the expression of one’s true self. Mira Nair gives visual life to Lahiri’s insightful novel with a masterful and empathetic touch, where no subtle nuance is left unexplored.
Other exquisite movies by Mira Nair that I have thoroughly enjoyed and can heartily recommend are, in order of release: Mississippi Masala (1991), Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), Monsoon Wedding (2001), and Vanity Fair (2004).
For those of you interested in reading more by Jhumpa Lahiri, you might also want to check out Unaccustomed Earth – which I have read and highly recommend – and the more recent The Lowland – which was released this past June and I am looking forward to reading.
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