Jhumpa Lahiri’s bestselling novel and Mira Nair are sadly no storytelling match made in heaven. Fumbling with a jumpy script that spans three decades and thrives for the most part on sober reflections, Nair’s keen eye for detail and sparkling musicality are ultimately not enough to withstand the weight of the film.
Though both Nair and Lahiri share a certain understanding of the immigrant experience (which is the concern of Namesake’s Ganguli family) something seems to get lost in the transition from page to screen. Gogol, the son of immigrants from Calcutta, has a name crisis in addition to his American-born-Indian complex: it’s a nickname derived from a dead Russian author with a reputation for starving himself.
Kal Pen impresses in the role of Gogol, but it is Tabu who breathes life into each dull scene as his mother, Ashima, in the role of a universal matriarch. Nair forges a visual bridge between the cities of Calcutta and New York in the gritty 80’s, where much of the film takes place. Poignant at its best moments, the film seems to stop short of creating a whole family portrait, preferring ambiguity and transience to tension. For the last hour, as the script rushes through the years, one gets a sense of being lost between the two continents in a way that is neither very compelling nor consistent.