Whether you appreciate or feel indifferent towards “The Namesake” depends solely on how much empathy you feel towards its protagonists and how much of your life’s own dilemmas you find reflected in its narrative. This is indeed the key to the appreciation of most non-fantasy, non-escapist films but it holds especially true for “The Namesake” dependent as it on the believability of its characters: if you cannot connect with them, you will just feel as if you are watching a slow mini-series built around a wafer-thin premise (that of an American Bengali coming to terms with the name ‘Gogol’ that his dad gave him) [As an aside: For
Karl Kal Penn, playing a character with the name Gogol is many steps up (or down) from his character in “The Rise of Taj” whose last name was Bada-Lund-a-bad) ]
As for me, I could connect. Having spent a few years in the US and Canada as a kid, I could totally relate to the Bangali parties as shown in the movie, chuckling at the attention to small details like the seating arrangement, the way the Jhumpa-mashis talk and the wall-hangings down to the kid falling asleep on the carpet. Ashoke Ganguly, essayed with immense finesse by the talented Irfan Khan, with his speech inflections and mannerisms, reminded me so much of people whom I know, including sometimes myself. The generational alienation between Gogol (Kal Penn and his hunched shoulders, bored expression and scruffy hair reminding me so much of an American-Indian cousin of mine) and his parents, magnified by the cultural divide, is shown with great sensitivity with none of the cartoonish, oversimplified ABCD vs First Generation Indian face-offs that have become the staple of the serious NRI film.
However for those whom “the Namesake” does not strike a chord, there will be many things to nitpick about: mostly the anachronisms evident in the modern advertisements in the background while showing Calcutta in the 70s and the 80s. And of course Tabu’s accent and acting, which even I, who really liked the film, could scarcely ignore —she was miscast, her acting was mediocre (especially compared to Irfan Khan and even Kal Penn) and her dialogue delivery jarring.
Not a classic. Not by any means. But most definitely a movie that moves, however that too only if you find a little bit of yourself in it.