So, I’ve fallen ridiculously behind on this challenge (not that I was ever really ahead, but you know what I mean) though this says more about my inherent procrastinatory habits than any apathy towards the films themselves. (I’ve watched all of four films I’d never seen before in the last six months which is shocking given the size of the ‘to watch’ pile in my room) I went for another Mira Nair film, mainly because my mum wanted to see it too and that seemed to be the kick in the backside I needed to watch something.
So The Namesake is a literary adaptation, from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel apparently – which after this I’d like to read – , from a couple of years ago. The film unfolds slowly, almost gently, part family drama, part coming of age story, part meditation on the immigration experience and the differences between first and second generation immigrants, giving the audience time to absorb each new location and become invested in the events and characters that inhabit it. Although the story is ostensibly about Gogol, the oldest child, the rest of the family are well drawn and interesting in their own rights – personally I would have liked more on Sonja. For me though, watching the film, it felt more as though I were watching Ashima’s story. Her experiences are fore-grounded for a lot of the film, so that even when the film is about other characters, it feels as though we are viewing them through her eyes. Hers is familiar story of an immigrant caught between two worlds and gradually finding a place between them both, but it is handled in such a way that it feels real rather than clichéd. (I was reminded, oddly, of my mum’s story about one of her aunts who emigrated to Canada as a young woman, but other than for her parents funerals never came home again, because she missed Scotland so much she knew if she came back she’d never leave despite there being nothing left here for her anymore. It made me especially glad that Ashima finds the balance my great-aunt never did.) For all that her children think her very traditional, she is an eminently practical woman who makes her choices based on getting the best she can for herself and her family. There is a lovely scene between Ashima and her husband Ashoke in a park, on one of their return visits to India, about why she married him in the first place. Despite the practicality of her reasoning there is a tenderness and a sweetness about their interactions that is more telling of the depth of emotion between them than any amount of flowery declarations of love.