Sunday, March 25, 2007

Immigrant experience on celluloid: The Namesake

Mira Nair is an all time favourite film director of mine - but Namesake, which I just watched, turned out to be more than just another good film. I found many layers of meaning in the film which for me went well beyond only the immigrant story of a journey, loss, identity etc. What was special for me was the artistic use of Bengali language, script, idioms, Kolkata, music, ethos and culture. I found echos of Ritwik Ghatak's cinema that Mira Nair has herself acknowledged. The music was not Rabindra Sangeet - which I feel would be very easy to fall back on but would not have an universal appeal beyond Bengalis - but bhatiali, baul gaan, modern Bengali songs and Hindustani Classical. The two deaths in the film - the scene where Gogol shaves off his hair in America after his father's death and then when along with his mother and sister performs the last rites at the banks of River Ganga in Kolkata at Babughat - are experiences that many of us have been faced with. Again the recurring image of the idol of Goddess Saraswati being immersed in the river is symbolic and has shades of Ghatak. All in all the film is well made, poignant and will reach out to all immigrant individuals and communities and all Bengalis in a very special way. And of course, not to forget the reference to Fulton fish market - which I'm sure will strike a chord with Bongs around the world.

It's a coincidence perhaps that earlier last week I was at a seminar organised by the British High Commsion at Chandigarh on illegal migration to UK from Punjab and the need to curb this trend and saw another film on the topic of immigration - another side of it. Delhi based film director and producer Savyasaachi Jain's documentary Shores Far Away was one of the highlights of the seminar. This film also deals with immigration - the dark and ugly side of it. The director talks about the thousands of Indians who are smuggled across Indian borders to Europe every year. He goes into the heartland of Punjab - villages near Jallandhar - from where most of the illegal immigrants hail. The route is fraught with danger, they face hardships on the way and are often duped by unsrupulous agents - and yet they keep going in search of what they feel is a better life. The directors speaks to many of these illegal immigrants in Hamburg, Vienna, London, Birmingham and other places. He interviews families in villages of Punjab who are waiting for many years hoping their loved ones will come back, but have no information about their whereabouts. On the way to Europe many of immigrants freeze to death, get killed or face imprisonment. Some of those interviewed actually speak on camera about their hardships and try to send a message back home to young people not to follow in their footsteps. This film is very intense too and all the more disturbing because it's all true. In many villages of Punjab, immigrating - even illegally without papers - is very much a way of life. Some months ago, Naseeruddin Shah's directorial debut film Yun hota to kya hota too had dealt with the humane aspects of immigration. That was yet another sensitive potrayal of the subject!!!


9 comments:

Biswajit Nayak said...

I was deeply moved by the film. It depicted how traditional Indian values are imbibed in the mind of even young imigrants. The actors performed very good and I did not realised that Gogol's father was not a bengali!
However, the use of the sex scenarios were more than that required to established the point.

Biswajit Nayak
Toronto
www.biswajitnayak.com

ishani said...

Thanks for your comment. I would agree 50:50 with you on your perspective about sexual content in The Namesake. I think there are about 4 such scenes - while 2 I feel are artistic & aesthetically done, one is indifferent & casual. The fourth could have been avoided and doesn't add any value. However, Jhumpa Lahiri's book and the movie too are at one level dealing with the issues of the clash of American values - which are among other things about sexuality - and Indian ones among the young Indian diaspora. But don't you think that the second and third generation young Indian immigrants are more confident & well integrated into the Western world than their parents were? They represent a new Global Indian confidence and can deal with global cultures - I feel! Finally, the peculiar potrayal of sexual content in mainstream Bollywood is something that leaves a lot to be desired - I would go with the crossover genre!

ishani said...

To add to my last comment - maybe the U/A rating could be debated upon!

Sharmila said...

I think what is excellent is Mira Nair's casting; the film is a casting coup in every sense of the word. the film enlivens the immigrant experience in a way that the novel fails to. The novel never rises to teh standards of Lahiri's collection of short stories.

ishani said...

I agree with that completely. In fact, while on one hand Nair shows Ritwik Ghatak type of sensitivity in dealing with the characters - the casting 'coup' reminds us of Satyajit Ray's brilliance in that area. The credits at the end pay tribute to both these directors - interestingly. If Bollywood buzz is to be believed Rani Mukherjee & Abhishek Bachchan had turned down roles of Kal Penn & Tabu in The Namesake....all I can say to that is - Thank GOD!!

ishani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pablo dasgupta said...

I saw the Namesake as well and felt it had many parallels with my own experience as someone of Gogol's generation. As a Bengali immigrant who grew up in the west many of the scenes portrayed in the film were eerily mirrored in my own life. I strongly recommend the film as both entertaining and somewhat informative.

ishani said...

Hi Pablo, on the issue of Namesake - I have a cousin too called Pablo Sen who's around 25 and lives in Kolkata. Are you named after the poet or the artist...I think Pablo is the kind of name that Bengali intellectual families find very fascinating & inspiring! Another cousin has named his son (now a five-year-old) Rousseau because he was born on July 14 (the anniversary of the French Revolution). Sorry about a post on your name...just thought it was topical in view of The Namesake & Gogol, with who you feel a sense of identification with??! No offence meant at all...

pablo dasgupta said...

LOL! I am certainly used to the focus on my name. I was named after Pablo Picasso but I thought I was the only Bengali in history with that name! I very much identified with the character of Gogol but not because of his issues with his name. I did not face similar issues with Pablo. I did however face several of the issues that he faced as a Bengali growing up in North America.