Who would’ve thought that Kal Penn, the Indian stoner from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, had the chops to do more than look high all the time? Yet here he is, holding his own as one of the leads in The Namesake, the film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding).
American-born Gogol Ganguli (Penn) just wants to fit in with his fellow New Yorkers—and that includes giving up the name that he’s grown up with for something a little more Westernized. His immigrant parents Ashoke (Irfan Khan, Shadows of Time) and Ashima (Tabu, Shock), however, feel that their son isn’t just shedding his traditions as he becomes more Americanized, but is also growing apart from his family. As time passes and events forever alter the life of the Ganguli family, Gogol learns to find his place in the world.
Penn pleasantly surprises us in practically every scene he’s in, with acting capabilities that he’s rarely shown in any of his previous roles. He practically steals the show, despite a very powerful cast. While Khan and Tabu both deliver heart-felt and excellent performances, another surprise among the cast is Jacinda Barrett (Poseidon) as Gogol’s American girlfriend Maxine. While her time onscreen is rather limited, she gives a commendable performance nonetheless.
Nair’s style is a simple, but effective, one. She does nothing to distract from the story, but at the same time, manages to capture the beauty of New York and India, making the locales as important to the film as the characters.
The story does, at times, seem to lack a focus. While we understand that Gogol is just part of an entire tapestry that includes his parents’ stories as well, it feels as though the story never has a proper central character and seems a bit disjointed.
Nevertheless, The Namesake transcends this flaw, thanks to its great cast, and is a lovely film overall.
You’ll dig The Namesake if you: Like emotional family dramas—or a big Mira Nair fan.