The Namesake

Reviewers’ grade: A-
In chronicling two generations of an Indian American family, “The Namesake” mines the divide between cultural identity and assimilation.

Our story begins in 1977 with the arranged Indian marriage of scholarly Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) and beautiful Ashima (Tabu). They move to New York, struggling with this strange new world and raising two children. Their oldest is a boy they name Gogol (Kal Penn) in honor of 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, with whom Ashoke feels a special bond. Gogol the son chafes against the odd name and the Bengali parents he views as hopelessly out of step.

Based on the Jhumpa Lahiri novel, the film boasts the expansiveness of a good novel. If “The Namesake” occasionally shoehorns in too much, director Mira Nair still excels for her sensitivity and delicately rendered characters. It helps that the acting is superb. Bollywood superstars Khan and Tabu turn in captivating performances, while Penn (“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”) demonstrates a solid dramatic side. PG-13 -Phil Bacharach

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