The Namesake

May 4, 2008

I caught this movie on TV on Friday night. I’d heard a lot about it – not all of it good – when it was released, so I was quite happy for the opportunity to watch it without making any special effort. But I have to say, I was quite, in fact thoroughly, disappointed with it. So disappointed, in fact, that now I must read the book to find out whether it is just as bad, or whether much has been fouled up in the process of translating it to screen.

As usual, what follows is not going to make sense if you haven’t seen the movie. Also, spoilers ahead (if anything I say can be considered to further spoil this movie.)

I have several “minor” complaints with the movie – it is too jerky and episodic and there is no continuity till at least halfway through the film; characters are not built up at all; there are gaping holes in the story line. Why, for instance, does Ashima not go with Ashok to Cleveland or wherever it was he went where he dropped dead all of a sudden? What did he drop dead of? Why did he ask her to change her mind about not accompanying him, and she later say that he had gone away to train her to live alone? Whose decision was it and why? Why did Moushmi feel that, having got married to Gogol, she had to stop living her life and be a “good bengali housewife who fries samosas every Thursday”? What was the basis for Moushmi’s wedding with Gogol anyway? Did they have anything at all in common or was it only because they had sex on their second date? (And, by the way, what happened to that chicken on the stove, while they retired to the bedroom? That worries me greatly, that does – did she turn it off, or did it burn? Or was there, as Amit suggested, a timer on the stove that turned it off automatically when it was done?) Why was all that emphasis on locating Gogol when his dad died, and not much concern about his sister? Why did Gogol have such an awkward relationship with his father anyway? That scene where Ashok gives Gogol the Gogol book is so weird! That, and the breaking-up scene with Max – what was that all about? If either scene were to make sense, it had to have a lot, LOT more context and character-building preceding it. Max is looking like a real nice gal, so well suited for Gogol and all of a sudden, bam! – there’s a complete disconnect.

But those are all the minor inconveniences. What I really didn’t get about the movie was, whose movie was it anyway? It started and ended with Ashima, and for the first quarter or so, she seemed to be the protagonist. But then, it suddenly became all about Gogol and his obsession with his name. Which might have been ok, only, it never convincingly made Gogol its subject. At least, at the end we know that Ashima returned to India and found her life waiting for her there. What happened to poor Gogol, cuckolded by his wife and abandoned to loneliness? At the end, his fate seems quite irrelevant – he never even reads the book by his namesake gifted to him by his father, and therefore understands nothing about Gogol (the original) or his father.

Humph. A completely unsatisfactory movie and the best that can be said of it is that at least at one point it made both of us laugh out loud (probably by mistake). Here’s how that happened.

Ashima is upset that Gogol is too busy to come home to mom and dad, but not too busy to spend a weekend with his girlfriend Max (Maxine) and her family. She complains to a friend/colleague:
Ashima: “How come… blah blah blah… and what kind of a girl calls herself Max anyway?”
Colleague (without losing a beat): “Maybe it’s a guy.”
And this is supposed to be comforting and sympathetic?

Taare Zameen Par

March 24, 2008

This movie came highly recommended, so Amit and I finally sat down and watched it last night.

It is the story of a boy who fares miserably in school and also is a bit of a misfit amongst his peers. He is happiest alone, observing things, painting or involved in creative activities, playing with pets. Unable to tolerate his poor academic performance, his parents send him off to boarding school, with the idea that the strict disciplining of that environment will sort out his “behavioural” problems. Naturally, it does nothing of the sort. Viewing it as punishment – as it was intended to be – the boy feels rejected by his family, retreats into himself, gives up painting, loses interest in everything else, and seems to be in depression. Enter Aamir Khan, who cleverly diagnoses dyslexia, and fast forward to a happy ending.

The only thing I can say is that it is inconceivable that – in this day and age, and in the social context of this boy’s family – the boy’s condition should have gone undiagnosed for so long. His condition is so severe that even I could diagnose it in minutes. How could his entire set of friends, family, teachers, all have failed to either diagnose it, or even to refer the boy to a doctor or psychologist?

Having said that, the movie, I must add, is excellently made. I do not recall when any other movie moved me so much, that for much of the time I felt close to tears. The boy’s victimisation, isolation, depression, are very well portrayed. You can’t help putting yourself in his shoes, even when you can also identify with, say, his mother, who is loving but frustrated. His father is portrayed in a very two-dimensional way which I felt was unrealistic – callous and almost cruel; but perhaps not as unrealistic as I would like to believe.

His elder brother’s tragedy is hinted at and then by-passed: a model son, who comes first in every subject (other than Hindi) and also excels at tennis, but who lacks the truant brother’s artistic skill and carefree (bindaas) attitude, like so many first-borns he is a victim of his parents’ ambitions.

There is a message, of course, and Aamir Khan does his bit of preaching to ensure that the message reaches the audience loud and clear. Thankfully, though it is a bit overdone, it does not become unpalatably moralistic and self-righteous.

On the whole, a movie very well made and delivered. Hats off to Aamir Khan, again.

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