So much has already been said about The Namesake being about finding one’s home both within and without, that I saw it as incumbent upon me to go and see the film, more so since it was about my home and my city.

The novel had not made my heart melt, but then I read it when I was not ‘outside’ my home. So I thought the film might provoke those emotions that the novel did not, especially after Mira Nair’s insistence that it was a film about two great metropolises — Calcutta and New York.

Alas! The Calcutta part of the film is so overwhelmingly clichéd that one wonders if Nair ever actually ventured out of an old tourist guide. The city episode entirely takes place in and around the Howrah Bridge and North Calcutta by-lanes, with an abundance of hand-pulled rickshaws. One scene which painfully seeks to take a detour is shot at the Victoria Memorial! 

And all this in the late 1990s, when Gogol comes to Calcutta after graduation. By then, the city was changing dramatically — parks, malls, condominiums and freeways had begun to come up and the Bengali was discovering the glories of globalisation through satellite television and the world wide web.

I do not connect to Nair’s sense of the city, whatever warm ministrations and sunshine details the characters might display. And not for a moment does this pile upon pile of clichés create any sense of loss in me — as much as in exile I may be. So what are we talking about?

Similarly, I could not understand what was so life-threatening about a name like Gogol, though it is actually to do with Jhumpa Lahiri and not Nair. Bengali Hindus have had names like Lincoln, Leo, Raina, Anna and Michael, and mostly to underline a certain cosmopolitanism among the Bengali elite, in keeping with their decades of cultural traffic with the West, including Russia which exported communism to the Bengalis. And even if ‘Gogol’ is uncommon in Bengal, what is so uncommon about Gogol in the US — a country where almost every nationality melts and mixes?

Moreover, one who names his son Gogol is already signifying a certain breach with his ‘own roots’, whatever may be the reason for naming the son, which makes the son, at least symbolically, a global citizen with three cultures entwined in him. So the entire crisis in the story effectively revolves around a superficial imposition of a myth that belies the film’s (and the novel’s) aspiration to be a drama on identity crisis.

Looking for one’s identity between differing cultures is so de rigueur for most Indian novelists and filmmakers based abroad that sometimes we do not even ask what this identity business is all about. This is not to say that there is no confusion or a sense of loss among immigrants. But loss and confusion are not equal to nostalgia, and hence the game of identity cannot be negotiated with endless replays of cultural stereotypes. But The Namesake is overwrought with them. If assimilation is the issue, assimilating in Mumbai is not really different from doing the same in NYC, however different the cities might be, especially if my ‘strong’ Bengali roots tug me. Why then is assimilation in a Western city such a huge issue?

In other words, Akakii Akakievich’s overcoat in the Gogol story does not fit us all, however much we all, Bengalis or Russians or any other soul in this shifting world, might have come out of it.