Freeze Frame #123: The Namesake

To be honest, I’m not sure I really got this movie. I could see what it was getting at, but I never really found myself caring about Gogol’s journey. The stops along the way seemed familiar (insofar as something I haven’t experienced personally could feel familiar), but I couldn’t feel the wind in my face.

However, the movie did contain a lovely romance between Asoke and Ashima, Gogol’s parents. Irrfan and Tabu are so wonderful in their roles that I found myself wanting to skip over the other scenes to get to the ones involving them. People talk about movies like HAHK as feel-good. For me, feel-good cinema is watching these two in this movie.

My favourite scene is actually a little moment that occurs towards the end of the second act. Asoke is about to leave town to take up a teaching position elsewhere, and Ashima comes to see him off at the airport. He looks at her, smiles, nods slightly as if to say “Aascchi” (meaning “Am off, then”) and moves forward in the queue.

What does that moment accomplish, really? One could argue that it’s in there because it is the last time they see each other (Ashoke dies shortly thereafter). But it’s more than that, I think. This is a movie that has spent enough time painting a picture of a wonderful couple and a loving marriage. It has had the patience to develop it through dialogue, through scenes of quietly shared domesticity, not just montages of two people walking and laughing while “romantic” music plays in the background.

That little smile and nod feels like a goodbye in retrospect. But it also stands on its own as a moment that encapsulates the unspoken language that develops over the course of an enduring relationship. It is one of the most romantic things I have seen on screen.

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8 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #123: The Namesake

  1. Monideepa says:

    I agree. That is one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie. The other being the one in which little Gogol sees his father shaving his head in the bathroom after his grandfather dies. It captured for me in one scene, the confusion, struggle and wonder, that children of first generation immigrants experience in coming to terms with the difference between what they see at home and what they see outside.

  2. That moment also speaks volumes about cultural differences…many American airport goodbyes are rife with tearful hugs, passionate kisses. But theirs is dignified and quiet, but no less in feeling.

  3. Monideepa>> I love that scene too. To begin with, there is the aspect of encountering death for the first time — the customs tied to it, the inability to comprehend the sorrow Asoke must be feeling at that point… To add to that, there is the contrast with the world outside. Quite well done.

    memsaab>> Interesting point. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of a cultural difference, maybe because I am used to giving my wife a hug at the airport. I just saw it as a quiet little way of showing what their relationship had evolved into. But you’re right, for people like them whose displays of affection are rarely physical and even more rarely public, that little gesture must’ve been enough.

  4. Amrita says:

    I have a fondness for this movie that surprises me. When I first saw it, I was all “meh” about it although it was a treat to see Tabu’s natural loveliness come through. But the more I think about it, the more it grows on me.

    I think the reason why it doesn’t make a stronger impact is because it wants to be a bigger story or a longer movie. Its not really The Namesake’s story here, it’s the story The Namesake, his father and his mother. Perhaps that has to do with the direction and the actors involved. You can’t put Mira Nair and Tabu together and not expect the story to have a strong pull towards that. Kal Penn, much as I love him, was clearly outclassed here except in the scenes where he had to be the son. As Gogol on his own, he was kind of bland. Ashima and Ashok were like the peanuts and chilli flakes on his rice crispies to me.

    Memsaab – interesting point. I didn’t think of it for the exact opposite reason of Ramsu’s: I’m used to my father solemnly shaking my hand and gently patting my back at airports while my mother gives me noisy kisses and big hugs. 😀

  5. Amrita>> You’re right, it did work better for me on second viewing. But Gogol’s story didn’t work even then. Like you said, it tries to do too much. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if it spends as much time on Asoke and Ashima as the movie does. But those two actors did so much with their screen time that Gogol’s own story seemed bland in comparison.

    I should read The Overcoat and Jhumpa Lahiri’s book sometime. Maybe then I’ll understand why so much is made of the Gogol connection. As far as the movie is concerned, there isn’t any part of Gogol’s story that wouldn’t work if he was named, say Debabrata Ganguly instead.

    The performance didn’t help either. Personally, I like Kal’s work in the first Harold and Kumar movie much better. Since then, he’s gotten a lead role that he messed up (this movie), and an extra role in a much bigger production that he shouldn’t even have taken in the first place (Superman Returns). I wonder if this constitutes progress. He seems to be better off stoned than sober 🙂

    ~r

  6. With the hope of not being banished forever, may i dare to say the movie did nothing for me! I loved the book and refuse to accept the movie version.

    To be fair to the movie, it did capture these little nuances excellently.

  7. It didn’t do much for me either, as far as the main plot was concerned. I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment. But after reading Interpreter of Maladies, I found Lahiri’s work a tad repetitive and the movie felt like it was hitting those very same notes yet again.

    You’re right about the nuances being captured well. I especially liked this other scene where Gogol brings Maxine to meet his parents, and she greets Ashima with a hug that the latter doesn’t quite expect. That little moment of apprehension in her face when she is about to “greet” Asoke is priceless 🙂

    ~r

  8. Cause Moss says:

    >>”I should read The Overcoat and Jhumpa Lahiri’s book sometime.”

    If it’s not too late, I would recommend giving the Lahiri book a pass and catching The Overcoat instead. I was unable/unwilling to suffer past chapter one of The Namesake two summers ago (something about the writing style threw me out completely), but quite enjoyed the movie, end of last year.

    One of my favorite scenes is when Gogol retrieves that book from a box in the study and tells his mom how it’s the first
    time he’s setting eyes on the thing that inspired his name, since his dad gave it to him in high school, and she replies — with
    her trademark quiet assuredness we’re all but used to, by then — that there are no accidents in life!

    Speaking of The Overcoat, it’s interesting how, after trudging thru the Nikolai Gogol short story collection for three weeks, I finished the book last week, right on time to (coincidentally — thank you, Cosmos!) commemorate Gogol’s 200th birth anniversary.

    The same week, while watching lead-foot leaden looker Jason Statham’s “let’s blow up everyone and everything” Transporter 3, I was pleasantly surprised to find a mention of Dostoevsky, no kidding! (Kudos, screenwriter, for interspersing a run-of-the-mill “sacrifice all at the altar of action” storyline with this and some other nice touches!) And, finally…Dasvidaniya. My week couldn’t have closed more nicely, what with this Russian trifecta and all!

    I recall seeing Dasvidaniya described somewhere as “weird, whimsical, wonderful” – exactly! (And “weird” because, IMO, of the only two camps out there — the “What’s In It For Me” camp and the “What Do You Want From Me” camp — Amar, the misanthrope misfit, belongs to neither, for the simple reason that he reaches out and expects nothing in return — yes, he’s that Cusack definition of “weird” from Martian Child.) Have you seen it?

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