I’ve rarely been so engaged by a film as I was by The Namesake. What I mean is, that I was at the same time enjoying the story and the characterisation, wishing I was in Calcutta, remembering visiting the Taj Mahal, reliving Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak films and occasionally being irritated by the American characters (and possibly cross because they seemed a little too much of a type when the central couple were so beautifully drawn).
There is something about Bengali Cinema which is irresistible and nearly always involves trains, the Ganges and the streets of Calcutta. But perhaps it is those thick black-rimmed spectacles that only Bengali intellectuals (and Buddy Holly) can wear and still look cool. All of these iconic signs are present in this film and its much the better for their inclusion — the first section of the film is wonderful. This was my introduction to Tabu and I wish I’d seen her before. (I’ve subsequently realised that I have seen her before in the wonderful Tamil adaptation of Sense and Sensibility under the title Kandukondain, Kandukondain, 2000) Now that I’ve discovered that she is the niece of Shabana Azmi, I’ll be looking out for her. Irrfan Khan as the father is also very good and I hadn’t recognised him from The Warrior.
I guess on reflection that I enjoyed the American scenes between the son and his partners slightly less than those featuring the parents, but overall the story held my attention (and Zuleikha Robinson is an actor well worth keeping tabs on). I’ve read a couple of fairly damning reviews of Kal Penn’s performance as the son and I’m afraid I’d probably agree that his character was the weakest element of the film. On a simple structural level, Mira Nair did well to handle what was almost a family saga on a limited budget and within the boundaries of quite a small and intimate film.