Movie Review: Namesake

Title: Namesake

Starring: Kal Penn, Tabu, Irfan Khan
Language: English
Director: Mira Nair

Not having read the book (Pultizer prize winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri with the same name), I went into see this movie with absolutely no preconceived expectations about the movie. It is one more of those “crossover” films where Bollywood stars share the screen with Western actors.

The movie is set partly in Kolkata and the rest in New York (NY). The story revolves around an immigrant family from India living in NY. The young man, Ashoke (played by Irfan) comes to the US as a student and returns to India to have an arranged wedding (something many NRIs can relate to quite easily). Then, he lives with his wife in NY and has two kids, a boy and girl. The boy, named Gogol (after his Dad’s favorite Russian author) is the central character in the film. Kal Penn does a remarkable job as Gogol playing the role of a second generation Indian kid growing up in America. Bollywood stars, Irfan and Tabu as the couple deliver creditable performances.

The Director deserves credit for the manner in which several scenes, particularly the emotional ones, are handled. These scenes are captured very tactfully with subtle facial expressions and minimal dialogues. The parents have been portrayed as being traditional, at the same time, the Director has done a fine job of not overdoing it like most other cross-over films. Overall Namesake is a well-made, and watchable film. If you are a desi immigrant in the US, this movie won’t disappoint you.

And now here are a few complaints about the film. When Irfan’s character, Ashoke, temporarily moves to Ohio from NY, it is not clear why his wife chose not to move with him. For a traditional Indian housewife, it made little sense not to follow her husband especially since her kids were no longer living with them. It might have been a little bit more believable, if he was moving a great distance, to say Australia or some place in Europe.

Mira Nair appears to have succumbed to the temptation to add needless “masala” by introducing a partial nude scene. There was no need for it in the film whatsoever. Likewise there was a brief Hindi song with Gogol and Moushimi. This was neither funny nor did it seem to serve any purpose in the story.

The scene where Gogol tells his Mom that he was separating from Moushimi, could have been better handled. In reacting to the news, the Mom simply accepted it and blamed herself for it! She did little to offer to help. This I thought was very unusual especially for first generation immigrants from India.

The photography (by Fredrick Elmes) in the film is nothing to write home about. Of late, Bollywood films have come a long way with regard to the quality of its photography. Films by Mani Ratnam, K. Shankar, and Ram Gopal Verma, in particular, tend to stand out in this regard. Considering the availability of excellent desi talent, Mira Nair might have been better off tapping “off-shore” resources for this part of the project! 🙂

John Edwards’ Hairy Issues

As if his infamous hair styling video was not enough, John Edwards now has another issue to deal with, once again related to his hair! John Edwards spent $800 on two hair-cuts and to make matters worse showed it as “consulting fee” on his campaign expenses! Now he is re-paying his campaign for these expenses.

Its impossible to defend or be supportive of such actions. On the other hand, in this day and age, where elections are decided to a large extent on TV, candidates have a dual challenge of appearing to represent the common man and at the same time looking as photogenic as they possibly could. It is easy to criticize these folks (Bill Clinton had his own hair-cut issues when he was President) and brand them as hypocrites. The reality is that these folks are just a product of the times we live in. In the pre-television era it was probably a lot easier to focus on the issues and less on ones’ looks. After all studies have shown that these days attractive people earn more money!

Needless Sensationalism

Spin by the media is not exactly new. But it simply crosses the line when you have serious issue like the murder of Pakistan Cricket Coach, Bob Woolmer. Check out these two news reports, one on the Cricket website and the other on Times of India website, both on the same topic. The cricket site report is restrained as it should be and reports that the investigators have made significant progress. The TOI reports on the other hand are supposedly based on a report in the Independent. The TOI reports that the killer has been identified! The independent goes on to add its own piece of a “masala” with a needless comment, “Police declined to comment on the identity of the suspect, understood to be male, or say whether he is a member of the Pakistan team or management”. And the TOI promptly picked up this piece of masala to say “According to The Independent , the suspect is a male but the police have declined to comment if he is a member of the Pakistan team or the management.”

Why on earth would the police comment on a query like that? Isn’t the media implicitly accusing the Pakistan team by asking such queries?

Bangladesh Tour: Young Team, Please!

The BCCI has recommended to the Indian selectors to pick a young team for the Bangladesh tour. I just hope the selectors would take this advice seriously! The so-called super stars of Indian cricket have had their chance on the World stage and failed miserably. Now comes a series against Bangladesh. This is perfect time to experiment and discover some new talent. On the last Bangladesh tour India lost an opportunity by dragging along the same “old” players. A struggling Sachin Tendulkar scored a century etc. on the last tour. Duh! What a waste? What were the selectors trying to prove?

Just look at Sri Lanka. Marvan Attapattu the former captain has been warming the benches as a reserve for this entire World Cup. Can’t India’s super-stars take a break from a single tour? It doesn’t have to mean that its the end of the road for the likes of Ganguly, Sehwag and Sachin. They can always be brought back for the tour of England and Australia. In the mean time, its a golden opportunity for India to unearth the talent that sadly Dilip Vengsarkar thinks doesn’t exist. It would be premature to pick the under 19 players, unless there is some outstanding talent that is spotted. Instead it would be prudent to try those who have had a chance to mature through the system (the 23-29 year olds).

The Australian team is a perfect example where this approach has been perfected. Barring Michael Clarke most players have come into the Aussie side after significant number of years at the domestic level (I don’t mean to say that India’s Ranji circuit is anywhere close to its equivalent Down Under).

Btw, Here is my pick for this tour (though I think the selectors will continue to persist with the Gangulys, and Sachins).

ODI Team:

Dravid, Gambhir, Uthappa, Badrinath, Yuvraj, Karthik, Dhoni, Powar, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, Manoj Tiwari, Yusuf Pathan, SS Paul, Zaheer Khan, Gagandeep Singh.

Test Team:

Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Dravid, Venugopal Rao, VVS, Yuvraj, Kaif, Powar, Kumble, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, Karthik, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, RP Singh.

Cricket: Finally, the World Cup Semis

Boy! what a boring World Cup! The organizers did an awful job by dragging this World Cup for so many weeks. When the cricinfo website posted this picture on their home page it was obvious that they are suffering the repercussions (of a disastrous world cup) in terms of page views.

To make matters worse there is no news whatsoever about the Woolmer case. It certainly looks like the organizers are waiting for the games to be over (or mostly over) before they announce any findings.

Its good to know that three of my four teams made it to the semis. 🙂

Quite understandably the teams that have been eliminated India, Pakistan, England and WI are having all kinds of trouble.

Restaurant Review: Monsoon Cuisine of India

Restaurant: Monsoon Cuisine of India
Location: Castro Street, Mountain View, CA

I had been to this restaurant sometime last year shortly after it opened for the first time. The food at that time appeared to be good, like most Indian restaurants do in their early days. In general, I prefer to avoid buffets at Indian restaurants mostly because it fills you up no matter how little you eat (thanks to the generous use of baking soda). However, Indian restaurants are the safest bet from a variety point of view for strict vegetarians. I was taking a friend of mine to lunch and chose Monsoon Cuisine of India based on my prior experience at this restaurant sensitive to the fact that it might have deteriorated since my last visit more the 6 months back. Boy I was disappointed to find that the quality had come down quite dramatically. There was plenty of empty space with no chairs or tables (a sign of difficult times perhaps). Barring this, the decor and ambiance seems to have sustained the passage of time.

However, the variety of the food was far from impressive, and whatever was available didn’t appear very fresh either. Wonder if this was all because of the weekend? I guess I’ll never know because I don’t intend to visit this restaurant for some time to come, weekend or otherwise!

Book Review: By the River Pampa I Stood

Title: By the River Pampa I Stood
Author: Geeta Abraham Jose
Type: Fiction

The story revolves around families belonging of the Syrian Christian Community of Kerala, India. The story set in Kerala, involves the Christian Community tied to an ancestral home with hard core “mallu” sounding name, inter-caste marriage complications, joint family squabbles, religious issues, you name it. It is hard to imagine that this book was not inspired by Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things. It has all the parallels of Ms. Roy’s book minus the lengthy description and prose. The central character in the book is the grandmother, and much of the story revolves around the close relationship between her and the grand-daughter.

Its a simple, short and easy read, and despite being a work of fiction, it does give a good insight to the Syrian Christian community, their customs and traditions.

The author is a EE post-graduate from IIT Madras and some portion of the proceeds from the book go Nav Srishti Foundation (an NGO).