Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Namesake

My brother knows me well--He bought me Mira Nair's The Namesake for my birthday. Yay! I couldn't control my excitement...we watched it almost immediately. I'd heard so many good things about the film, so my expectations were high, but I hadn't read the book and knew next to nothing about the plot.

Was I disappointed? Not one bit.

Although the movie centers around Gogol, a young man born in America to Indian parents, my favorite aspect of the film was the beautiful love story between Gogol's parents(played by Tabu and Irfan Khan).

Tabu as Ashima reminded me so much of my own stepmother! Like Uzma, Ashima left her comfort zone in her native country to live in the bustling world of New York City. Like Uzma, Ashima was excited to experience life with her new husband, but was unsure of what to expect. Tabu played this part brilliantly--her facial expressions and mannerisms were eerily similar to my stepmother's reactions in real life.

I don't know what kind of emotions this comment is going to stir up, but it will certainly make for an interesting discussion, so I'll say it anyways: I think arranged marriages have gotten a bad rap. I'm not saying I want one, or that one should be considered when one is already in love with someone else (as so often happens in Bollywood), but I would say that I'm not opposed to it, either. Here in the West, we scoff at arranged marriages, but who has the higher divorce rate? In my unqualified never-been-married opinion, a great marriage depends on the character of both parties and their committment and faithfulness to one another. Arranged or not isn't really the issue, is it?

Ashoke and Ashima are prime examples of a solid marriage. They grew into a deep love for one another that many of the couples I know would envy. Ashoke was a simple man and a caring, considerate husband, and Ashima was content with him and no one else. I adored them together!

Much of the rest of the film was about Gogol and his realization of his roots and his identity. He had a big problem with his name (which I can relate to, but that's another story). But Gogol's path to finding himself had more to it than just accepting his name. He had to learn to accept his Indian heritage in a culture that was strickingly different.

These two elements made for a very interesting story, but The Namesake unraveled them a bit slowly. Sometimes things were said or done that didn't seem to make sense. However, everything tied together in the end, and it became apparent that they were all there for a reason.

The Namesake had a very realistic, unflashy feel, which worked for the story it was trying to tell. I throughly enjoyed the film, but there was one thing that bugged me:(***Spoilers ahead***) Gogol's first girlfriend, Maxine, got a raw deal... She wasn't Indian, and she wasn't trying to be, but she was desperately trying to understand him and all aspects of his life. I felt sorry for her when she was dumped. It's not like she was trying to make Gogol something he wasn't...She seemed like she really loved him, and I thought he loved her, until he married another woman so quickly! And, if you've seen the film, you know how that turned out...

Oh, well. The Namesake was still a good movie, make no mistake. Mira Nair works her magic again!

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida NazirBitten By Bollywood


Sanket Vyas February 4, 2008 at 4:39 PM  

I enjoyed 'The Namesake' alot. It was a very personal story for me as well & I saw alot of how it must have been for my parents while watching the movie. My dad told me a story about my mom going out grocery shopping during a winterstorm in Chicago even though he had begged her not to - and her going out in a thin sweater and nearly freezing to death but made it back in one piece with food at that. Struggling with our American life & Indian heritage is something all of us 2nd generation Indian-Americans went through and I think it made us richer in the end as we got the best of both cultures.

Tabu & Irfan Khan are amazing in this movie - Kal Penn does a good job as well but I will always see him as Kumar in the most excellent movie 'Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle' ;)

P.S. Arranged marriages have gotten a bad rap I agree but that is for another column. For the record, my parents had a 'love marriage' as it is called in India 40 years ago while my dad was a dashing professor at the college my mom was studying at! I put a post up celebrating their 40th anniversary on my blog as they are still going...

Anonymous,  July 2, 2008 at 6:58 PM  

"Here in the West, we scoff at arranged marriages, but who has the higher divorce rate? In my unqualified never-been-married opinion, a great marriage depends on the character of both parties and their committment and faithfulness to one another. Arranged or not isn't really the issue, is it?"

I couldn't agree more! According to BBC's Arrange Me A Marriage, around 80-90%+ of arranged marriages worldwide lasts forever in comparison with around 40% of first "love marriages" (unfortunately, marriages in the West isn't how it was decades ago). Why?? Probably because there were so much love before marriage that they die out after marriage, or probably because these people aren't realistic about the future with who they marry. Whenever I see someone get married in a "love marriage", I instantly think that the marriage won't last (it just doesn't seem that serious, unlike arrange marriages).

I also hate the term "love marriage" (opposite arranged marriage). The potential bride and groom-to-be see each other and then decide [privately with their family] whether they want to marry the person or not - so there's at least some kind of attraction before marriage and they have their whole lives after marriage for love to grow... so there is or will be love in arrange marriages!

And there are different kinds of arranged marriages - for example: some had met their potential partner before and ask their parents whether they can arrange their marriage, and some families (like most South Asian families) search for the right partner since the birth of that family member they wish to find a partner for... that happens casually overtime.

There are, of course, loads of arrange marriages in the West amongst South Asian communities.

Nida July 8, 2008 at 1:06 PM  


I think I know what you mean when you say arranged marriages are more "serious"-than most non-arranged marriages. While I'm not saying non-arranged marriages are not serious--I believe most of them are, and most people go into the marriage with the full intent of staying together--, I am saying that in an arranged marriage, the purpose of entering the relationship starts with marriage, while most relationships here in the West start with the intent of getting to know the person, and one or both people may have marriage as a possibilty in the future. Or neither may have marriage in mind at all.

So I can see why you would have that impression--Arranged marriages being based on the understanding and desire of both parties to be married, while non-arranged--MOST of the time--being based on a decision to spend the rest of your life with a person after dating for a certain period of time, where marriage may not have been the intent from the beginning.

If I had to take a firmer stance between the two, I'd actually fall in the middle, probably in those situations you presented where the bride and groom meet with the intent of marriage, but see if there is an initial attraction first. I'm with you that love can and will develop over time if both parties are committed, which is what I was saying in my post...if both people want to make it work, arranged or not, chances are they will.

Having said all of that, I've never been married myself so this is just my personal opinion and could possibly change over time. :)

Getting back to the movie, I just have to say it again--The Namesake did such a beautiful job of portraying an arranged marriage composed of two loving parties who were committed from the start. It was just a great way to show people who don't understand about arranged marriages that they can bloom into some of the most solid relationships.

Anonymous,  July 13, 2008 at 6:43 PM  

I also find it rather frustrating that Westerners, like myself, doesn't have the choice to have arrange marriages as it's not part of the popular Western culture (unless a Western person have a certain African/Asian heritage or are part of a Royal family) - traditionally, Baptists can have arrange marriages which isn't practiced amongst them nowadays. I'm aware that many South Asians doesn't have a choice of having a "love" marriage, but at least if the person is compatible, they could ask their elders to arrange their marriage, if not, they could run away and elope (lol, oops, I don't think I should be laughing at that). However, Westerners don't have that option of having an arrange marriage in any way.

PS: Do you know what that Hindu-Bengali wedding headwear is called? Or am I asking the wrong person?

Anonymous,  July 13, 2008 at 9:39 PM  

Just found out that the groom's headwear is called a 'topor' and the bride's is called 'mukut'.

Nida July 14, 2008 at 9:15 PM  


Thanks for the info! Nope, I didn't know what the headwear was called but wondered about it just like you did--it was different from what I had seen in other Bollywood films.

You know, sometimes I often think life would have been easier had I grown up in Pakistan and had an arranged marriage--and had my family (people who love me) choose my mate rather than me doing it myself(that obviously didn't work because I am now a single mother). But that would be in an "ideal" situation, and there's no guarantee that things would have turned out that way.

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it?;)

Anonymous,  May 25, 2009 at 3:33 PM  

Namesake as a movie is scarily realistic for all of the Indians in the USA by and large.

The saddest part of the movie, is what happens after gogols wife finds another man! what is gogol supposed to do? i guess he's gotta move on!

btw- gogols wife wasnt the prettiest indian actress out there. she does represent the todays average indian american girl though! not so pretty, not so smart, but very slutty! :-)

Narada,  July 17, 2009 at 2:58 PM  

My 2 bits.

I often heard the term "Parents choose" the partner for their son/daughter to describe arranged marriage. Although that happens, for the most part in the middle class community, Parents introduce potential partners and the son/daughter gets to choose.

My sister was introduced to over 10 guys before she agreed (chose) to mayy with one.


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