The Namesake vs The Namesake

For an event sometime back, I had to write an essay where I had to compare a movie and a book. I chose ‘The Namesake’. Following is my essay.

“Remember that you and I made this journey and went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go”

The journey that the gentleman has mentioned above, to his son was put into words by Jhumpa Lahiri and was given life by Mira Nair. While critics, viewers and readers may eternally argue as to which adaptation was better of the two, one thing everyone has agreed upon is the fact that “The Namesake”, simple, elegant and slow, is a classic, a masterpiece.

We will get into the book and movie debate a little later into the essay since for that we must first know the plot & the essence of “The Namesake”.  When we migrate away to a land of opportunity, we take along with us our culture into this new land of a diametrically opposite culture. The result is a pseudo-equilibrium where, in spite of a peaceful adaption, we want to cling on to our old self & culture. In this process, what we tend to overlook is that our future generations who will be  born in this new land will be at peace with the new culture and ours will be the alien one. This confusion of identities and the feeling of belonging to both the East & the West is the essence of the story. This is the story of Ashima & Ashoke Ganguli, one such immigrant Bengali couple, and their migration to Massachusetts, United States. Its focus is on their son Gogol, the protagonist, who considers himself American and hence does not identify with his parents. The book traces his journey from being Gogol to Nikhil, and being Gogol again or in other words, to reconnect with his family.

To compare a book & its movie adaptation is not an altogether a right thing to do, in spite of that being the objective of this essay. These are two aspects, since the book is for a softer audience who have the patience to go through each and every page and want detail and the viewer of the movie wants the complete story in under 100mins along with the dialogues, music, screenplay etc coupled with a little silence. To do justice to these two forms of art, we will treat each of them independently and come to a conclusion.

The book is the father of the movie & we will take it first. A few adjectives for the book are: eloquent, subtle, slow, extensively detailed, slight humorous and emotions varying from moderate happiness to extreme grief but never more than happy. It is not one of those books of ‘Feel Good’ or of hope. It’s the story of one man’s decision to traverse to a new land and the difficulties faced by him & his family there. It is hence, in my humble opinion, a story of emotions. The past and the present have been handled with great imagination just as it would have been done as if it were a movie. The stress on the Bengali culture and the reactions of Gogol throughout the book makes one visualize them with absolute ease. Since to reveal the complete story would be unfair on the part of the reader of this essay, we will leave the book here.

The movie begins with how Ashoke & his wife Ashima met, moved to the US, and then started a family. It tries to relate the viewers to the parents, thereby allowing us to see them in a way their son Gogol could not. The movie links Gogol’s childish immaturity and generation gap and his self searching effort with great care for human emotion, keeping intact the essence of the book. His discovery of the true relevance of his name finally also means for him to understand his parents and their struggles. At the end of the movie, one could relate to the characters as this is the story of a regular Joe. It is an experience of watching the life of a family rather than merely character.

The artistic craft & detail with which each scene is made resonates the essential spirit of the movie. There are so many occasions where the movie has added a little more than the book, like the garlands in the airport back in Calcutta, the shabbiness at the wedding, Ashoke’s hairstyle, the language, the accent of Ashima, the silent & sometimes silly romance between Ashoke & Ashima, the way Gogol plays with his mother’s sari when he’s young, Meera Maashi, and so on…… they add life to make the viewer stand up and feel the reality. That said, it’s not without flaws which I do not wish to discuss.

All in all the movie is enthralling because of powerful performances from the lead cast and being brilliantly shot by Mira Nair. It’s fast and never tends to stop at any place for too long thereby taking care of the audience’s interest levels too. That said the book is a classic with its slow, narration and detail and since that essentially is the reason for the movie coming into the world, deserves a great applause.

So I guess this is where I tell you what I thought, my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is that they will appeal to different audiences but the movie, I hate to say, is for once, more enjoyable than the book. I read somewhere that it’s always good to end an essay with a quote.

Go see the world, you will never regret it.

Watch Namesake. If possible, with your loved ones. Its one experience you won’t regret!



Movie – On IMDB
Book –  At Flipkart


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