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Mira Nair’s THE NAMESAKE Opens Cinequest

No one seems better suited to transform Jhumpa Lahiri’s touching prose into film than Mira Nair. Both the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of INTERPRETER OF MALADIES and the director of SALAAM BOMBAY and MONSOON WEDDING know firsthand about the Indian-American immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, and the search for identity that informs their art. Adapted from Lahiri’s eponymous first novel, published in 2003, the deeply felt family drama doesn’t disappoint.

The narrative unfolds differently than the story in the best-selling book. Starting more dramatically with the tragic train crash that spares bookworm Ashoke Ganguli’s (Irrfan Khan of HAASIL) life in 1974 India, Sooni Taraporevala’s script initially favors the male point of view. Then time leaps forward to the awkward meeting between Ashoke and Ashima (Tabu of CHANDNI BAR), whose parents have arranged for their marriage. When asked if she will be lonely living half way around the world from her family, the shy beauty looks at her future husband and replies, “Won’t he be there?” Humor and humanity go hand in hand, as the newlyweds embrace each other and life in America.

Nair’s assured direction deftly handles a story that spans generations, while straddling the Ganges and the Charles River. She captures fleeting memories in quick flashbacks, a technique that can appear clichéd in less capable hands. Rarely can a film shift from one character to another with such subtlety and sensitivity, belonging first to Ashoke and then chronicling Ashima’s assimilation difficulties in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eventually the young couple’s first-born child, Gogol (Kal Penn of HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE), struggles the most to find his footing and the true meaning of his odd literary name.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes splashes vibrant color on his cinematic canvas of Calcutta, only to wash it all away during the Ganguli’s East Coast winter—recalling the DP’s work on BLUE VELVET and THE ICE STORM, respectively. Although Lahiri’s telling details draw readers into the emotional and cultural life of her characters in ways that the film cannot, Elmes’ camera communicates with a visual eloquence. Close-ups of Ashima’s face reveal her sense of profound loss as loved ones slip away. When Gogol’s wealthy blonde girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett of POSEIDON) shows up at the family’s suburban home for a religious ceremony, her black dress signals a cultural divide, setting her apart from the Bengali mourners garbed in traditional white. Gogol will soon turn his affections towards “his own kind” (Zuleikha Robinson of HIDALGO).

Capturing all the nuances of such a complex, textured novel is impossible. Nair conveys its spirit, creating a moving saga that speaks to anyone caught between worlds.

--Susan Tavernetti

Rated PG-13 for for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language. In Bengali, Hindi and English. 122 minutes.

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About Cinequest

Colon Antonea
(Cinequest)

CINEQUEST is a vanguard organization that fuses creativity with technological innovation to empower, improve, and transform the lives of people and communities.

CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL: February 28 - March 12, 2017


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