Screening: ‘The Namesake’

Nair relates to pic's Calcutta-New York connection

Distrib Fox Searchlight is calling Mira Nair’s latest pic, “The Namesake,” her most personal film to date. For her part, Nair says that the story, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, struck a nerve with her because it is split between two cities she’s lived in for most of her life.

“What was most exciting for me was to film Calcutta and New York as if they were one city. Because that’s the state of mind of an immigrant, and physically and spiritually they are quite similar,” she says. “It’s uncannily my journey, the living between these two places.”

Story follows two generations of a family. The parents, Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu), emigrate from Calcutta to New York in the 1970s, encountering considerable culture shock. In the present day, their son Gogol (Kal Penn), named for the Russian novelist, tries to leave much of his heritage behind, only to find it more relevant than he imagined.

Nair is especially pleased with the work of her three lead actors, particularly Penn.

“He has wonderful comic timing but this is his first dramatic role,” she says. “I feel like the angel of casting flew over this movie.”

Fox Intl. encouraged the European bow in Rome because of the fest’s proximity to pic’s original release date. Even with the release pushed to spring, Fox’s Hilary Clark, senior VP of international publicity, is pleased to be unspooling the film in Rome.

“It was like falling of a log. They saw the film, they loved the film, and they said can we program it for the festival.”

For her part, Nair says, “I love the city and I look forward to a new festival in a great city like Rome.”

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