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Identity search

Identity search | The Namesake shows what happens when identities blur and obscure

When the Apostle Paul wrote to early Christians, he often reminded them of who they were: adopted sons signed, sealed and delivered to God. To Paul, identity mattered.

The Namesake, (Rated PG-13 for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language), takes the same view and shows what happens when identities blur and obscure.

The feature is director Mira Nair's latest offering, based on the best-selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri about Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn), the New York-born, confused son of an Indian couple from Calcutta.

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Gogol's fish-out-of-water feelings begin with his flack-magnet name, after Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol, whom his father read on a seminal train journey. Americans will find Gogol's immigrant trajectory instructive, because it's a common one: He rejects his Indian background wholesale to fit into America, then embraces it, until he finally alights on a comfortable identity fusion.

Along the way, the film captures some delightfully poignant nuances about Indian life. We see a young Ashima (Tabu), having rejected several marriage prospects, agree to marry Ashoke (Irfan Khan) because she likes his cool American shoes. When in arranged marriages it takes only weeks-or less-from first encounter to the wedding day, the little impressions count. Eventually, a tender love springs up between them.

Gogol, their son, in America is reluctant to bring home his white girlfriend, and cringes when she addresses his parents by their first names. But his deep and sometimes painful decisions eventually show him the importance of family.

Nair made acclaimed films Mississippi Masala and Monsoon Wedding, which have similar themes of the Indian diaspora juggling multiple cultures. Gogol often fails to find baseline values that encompass his different identities. When he smokes pot and sleeps with his girlfriends, he rejects the good in Indian mores and takes up the worst in American license. The choices can be bitter, but it's a reminder that it's hard to keep a clear identity without Christ.


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