Friday, April 20, 2007


The Namesake, both the novel and the film, deals with the experiences of community of expatriate Bengalis in the United States, leading otherwise mostly unremarkable lives. It is a story about a name, that is, search for identity and cultural identification. The protagonist, Nikhil "Gogol" Ganguli, along with his family struggles to find his identity in an alien land. In one way or other Gogol’s life-story shows familiarity with the lives of the Indian Diaspora at large.
Recently, a debate is in the air over The Namesake as to which one is better, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake or Mira Nair’s film adaptation of the book.

Jhumpa Lahiri, a celebrated writer and the year 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Interpreter of Maladies, had taken long strides with the publication of the novel The Namesake. Lahiri’s panache as a novelist is seen in the emotional portrayals of her characters. Search for identity, loss of sense of belonging, anguish of separation, and cruel demands of larger society that seek definitions, are the high points of her works. It also shows her familiarity with the lives of expatriates. However, the narrator in the novel held some limitations, which can’t be recounted as narratorial flaw. It is something that often makes novel appealing, somewhat evocative and at times allows varied interpretations.

Mira Nair', acclaimed Indian filmmaker, through her films has often taken into account human lives and relationships in a world where cultures-boundaries lose colour. The Namesake, Nair’s most remarkable film to date, is a screen adaptation of Lahiri’s novel. The film is somewhat personal to Nair as the novel is to Lahiri. Both Nair and Lahiri share the emotional space peculiar to the people of Indian Diaspora.

A photo from the Fox Searchlight release "The Namesake", directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn, Zuleikha Robinson, Tabu and Irrfan Khan.

The audio-visual felicity that comes with the cinema-form always had an added advantage. Mira Nair too has used this aesthetic form to bring to the screen the complex web of expatriate experience. Characters in the film as compared to the novel are profoundly carved out. The way this film has received applause shows Nair’s expertise to transport thematic reality of the novel into triumph of visual world of film. Nair not only explores modern life and vicissitudes of change, loss, fear, conflict, and catastrophe with remarkable ease, but also paves way for the ties and bonds that overarches frustration and agony, desolation and identity-crisis, that creeps in the lives of global families.

The ongoing debate is misdirected if it focuses to judge the relevance of the Film or the Novel, or one over the other. None of the two aesthetic forms may be compared for both rely on entirely different way of expression.

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