If you have ever spent time in India as I have (almost two months over two visits), and written about it, or thought about it, then you will quickly realize that it doesn’t matter which part of India you have visited, north or south. Why? Because it has changed little over the decades.
That’s why this movie The Namesake (based on the novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri), which opens in 1977 Calcutta, India on a train in “first class accommodations” or what is also called "sitting class" is deeply familiar to this reviewer. The story moves forward from 1977 to present-day New York City and revolves around a Bengali family, the Gangulis. The husband and wife move there immediately after their traditionally Indian-arranged marriage, happy in this case, to a waiting job for the husband Ashook. They are still wearing the red henna on their feet and the glow on their faces as they settle in. (Indians wear red for weddings and white for funerals.)
Director Mira Nair is no virgin when it comes to directing Bollywood stars. Her debut film was the celebrated Salaam Bombay!, and she also directed Mississippi Masala.
One of the stars in this movie, Kal Penn, did a recent NPR interview in which he discussed his own name. I happened to hear the interview just before departing for Boston where I saw a preview screening of The Namesake. So his interview made me that more interested in seeing the movie. He said that he was told to Americanize his name. He did not want to get an American name. However, he did compromise by taking his first name and splitting it into two: Kal and Penn. Thus he said it sounded more Anglo. And he was offered more roles.
As Gogol in The Namesake, Kal Penn faces that age-old dilemma: should I change my name to please others? Neither seemed to relish the irony of having to conform to win friends and influence potential interviewers. He was however baptized and confirmed American in real life and in the movie.