I wanted to return to making a small-scale, intimate and mobile film, one which is extraordinarily close to my own reality as a South Asian person living in America today. Jhumpa Lahiri, the great Pulitzer-prize winning writer of Interpreter Of Maladies, has written precisely such a tale in her debut novel, The Namesake, which is this film. It encompasses, in a deep humane way, the tale of millions of us who have left one home for another, who have known what it is to combine the old ways with the new world, who have left the shadow of our parents to find ourselves for the first time.
I long to see my own people through my camera, one that will move fluidly between New York and Calcutta. The stellar cast includes Kal Penn (HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, SUPERMAN RETURNS) as Gogol, Tabu (MAQBOOL) as Ashima, Irrfan Khan (THE WARRIOR, MAQBOOL) as Ashoke, Zuleikha Robinson (HIDALGO, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE) as Moushumi and Jacinda Barrett (THE LAST KISS, SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS) as Gogol’s American lover, Maxine.
The look of this film is more photographic than fluid, more PARIS, TEXAS than MONSOON WEDDING. I wanted to film a dusky Bengali beauty against a Mark Rothko painting in a stark Manhattan space. I wanted to see her languorously climb the stairs to her lover's tenement, preparing herself for her first betrayal. I wanted to see an Indian baby's shock of black hair in a sea of bald white ones. I hoped to capture on film the moment we unexpectedly become adult, the strangeness of burying a parent in a foreign land that has now become home.
Using Nitin Sawhney’s score and an eclectic mix of music ranging from Tagore's classic Rabindra Sangeet to 60s protest songs to contemporary hip-hop mixed with Indian pop, THE NAMESAKE reflects the current new wave of Asian Cool making its impact in America. I made this classic, poignant story with hot, meditative strokes - capturing the gothic bustle of old Bengal against the pulsating new look of young, cool desi* power in New York City.
*desi = South Asian native
About the film
“Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second.” - Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
Spanning two generations, two clashing cultures and two very different ways of life that crash into each other only to become lovingly intertwined, THE NAMESAKE is ultimately about the imminently relevant question: what does it mean to be an American family?
In her most personal film to date, acclaimed director Mira Nair (VANITY FAIR, MONSOON WEDDING) brings to the screen a poignant and transporting version of Jhumpa Lahiri’s best-selling novel, which won reader’s hearts across the world with its exploration of the ties that can both tangle and bind global families as they brave the modern vicissitudes of change, conflict and disaster.
Jumping between the equally colourful and vibrant cities of Calcutta and New York, THE NAMESAKE is a family drama, but it’s about a very different kind of contemporary American family: the Gangulis, who come to the US. from India in order to experience a world of limitless opportunities - only to be confronted with the perils and confusion of trying to build a meaningful life in a baffling new society.
On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) jet off from sweltering Calcutta to a wintry New York where they begin their new life together. Virtual strangers to one another and with Ashima now living in a new and very strange land, their relationship quickly takes a turn when Ashima gives birth to a son. Under pressure to name him quickly, Ashoke settles on Gogol, after the famous Russian author - a name that serves as a link to a secret past and, Ashoke hopes, a better future. But life isn’t as easy for Gogol as his parents might wish. As a first-generation American teenager, Gogol (Kal Penn) must learn to tread a razor-thin line between his Bengali roots and his American birthright in the search for his own identity. As Gogol attempts to forge his destiny - rejecting his given name, dating a rich
American girl (Jacinda Barrett), heading to study architecture at Yale - his parents cling to their Bengali traditions. But their paths keep crossing with both comic and painfully revelatory consequences . . . until Gogol begins to see the links between the world his parents left behind and the new world that lies in front of him.
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents THE NAMESAKE, directed by Mira Nair and written by Sooni Taraporevala and based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. The producers are Lydia Dean Pilcher and Nair; Lori Keith Douglas, Yukie Kito and Zarina Screwvala are the co-producers. The executive producers are Yasushi Kotani, Taizo Son and Ronnie Screwvala. The film stars Kal Penn, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, and Zuleikha Robinson.
Capturing this tale set in two of the world’s most fascinating cities is an accomplished behind-the-camera team that includes director of photography Frederick Elmes, ASC (BROKEN FLOWERS, KINSEY), production designer Stephanie Carroll (who previously worked with Nair on MONSOON WEDDING), editor Allyson C Johnson and costume designer Arjun Bhasin (Nair’s KAMA SUTRA and MONSOON WEDDING) The music is by the leading composer, songwriter, DJ and cross-cultural pioneer Nitin Sawhney.