Renowned author and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was first published in 2003. It was adapted into a film with the same name. Lahiri penned the novel to profuse critical acclaim, followed by Mira Nair’s reasonably modest attempt at putting it up for the screen. Although this was a long time back, it is but irresistible to reflect on these timelessly notable works.
With the book, interspersed with a copious supply of nuances depicting relationships, emotions, betrayal and life in a country away from home, Lahiri does a great job expanding the novella into a full-fledged novel. It traces the story of a boy named Gogol born to expatriate Bengali parents – the Gangulis – staying in America during the late 60s. Christened with a supposedly queer name of his father’s favourite author, Gogol finds himself ill-at-ease with his name. He also grows increasingly distant from his parents’ ‘Bengali-ness’ and finds the setting of his family embarrassing for his American taste.
Lahiri’s forte certainly is her ability to articulate effortlessly. Even though The Namesake is a work of exemplary literary value, the prose flows smoothly thus lending it a sense of weight resting on simple but strong and elegant pillars. Her minute observations about everyday things – family interactions, dilemmas, emotional chaos – make it easy for the reader to relate to the characters. Furthermore, the kind of unfolding that Lahiri gives to the story makes them all the more intense and compelling to believe.
Nair, however, does limited justice to the high standards set by Lahiri’s pen(wo)manship. Nevertheless, the amount of effort put in to conceive this deceptively simple tale onto the silver screen is manifested in the solid start that the movie gets. The actors have been judiciously chosen, resulting in good intra-couple sultry onscreen chemistry. The contrast between Communist Calcutta and America of the 70s – 80s shown in the film exacts considerable credence on the part of the audience, particularly shedding light on the stark difference between the two cultures which Gogol finds difficult to bridge. Giving due credit to the initial thrust the story enjoys, the movie starts slackening its grip on the plot in the middle, glossing over sundry formative moments in Gogol’s life or not accounting for them at all. In a bolt-for-the-wraps operation towards the end, with its more-than-required pace, the film loses all that it gains in the beginning, showing only discrete moments without a smooth transition from one situation to the other, depriving itself of substantial brownie points.
Regardless, Lahiri’s book poses many compelling questions to the reader. What really are family and culture? Does one’s name define a person as he/she is? Which direction does the argument go; the egotistical way or the Shakespearean ‘What’s in the name’ way? Since The Namesake derives its theme from the author’s personal experience, a lot of veracity gets pumped into it along with a tenacious quest for answers. And as Lahiri’s Gogol Ganguli finally returns to his nest, what also accompanies is the realization that ‘We all came out of Gogol’s Overcoat’.
Book – 4/5
Film – 3/5
You may order a copy of The Namesake from Flipkart here- or from Amazon here- The Namesake