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DID YOU READ

Mira Nair on “The Namesake”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: Irfan Khan and Tabu in “The Namesake,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

Taking several steps back from the lush canvas that was her adaptation of “Vanity Fair,” director Mira Nair turns her glance inward, bringing personal insight and a more straightforward style to “The Namesake.” Based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, the film attempts to portray the universality of the modern immigrant experience by tracing the lives of Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) as they face the transition from their life in Calcutta to their new home in New York, and eventually that of their son Gogol (Kal Penn), who struggles to reconcile his identity as a first-generation American with a growing realization of how strongly his roots still reach back to the culture of India. I spoke with Nair in New York:

This film seems to address two divides: the divide of country in Ashoke’s and Ashima’s story, and the generational divide in the story of Gogol’s relationship with his parents. Does one theme inform the other?

Good question — I don’t know if they inform each other. I think the story of parents and children, and therefore the generational divide, is a story that’s not unique to any one culture, it’s the same in many places. Of course, in the case of “The Namesake,” it’s deeply affected by the fact that the parents are born and raised in Calcutta, in a deeply Indian context, and that their children are born and raised entirely in an American context.

The fact is that the parents realize they can’t spoon-feed what they have known. There’s no stasis, things move. And they’re also wiser than most, in that they’re not going to sledgehammer down Gogol’s throat everything that is Indian and everything that they know.

So there’s a certain amount of fluidity, but the story is the ancient story: How do you grow up? How do you come of age? How do you realize who you are? Sometimes, many times, you realize a little too late. You have regrets; you have things that you wished you had done. I know when I became a parent it was the only time I really realized what I had put my parents through. It’s about that continuum, but greatly affected by the fact that there are two cultures here.

You’ve said this film expresses your love for two cities: New York and Calcutta. The things there are to love about New York will be more obvious to American audiences, but what about Calcutta?

Calcutta is incredibly layered; layers of history in that city. And it’s a city that’s devoted to politics and art, the mix of it. It’s a city that is full of erudition in the least expected places. Look at the house Ashima comes from: It has stenciled wallpaper next to a patch of cement next to a family portrait. That was not an art-designed home — that is how it came. I love the need of people to express themselves. It’s classic Bengali living — an oil painter, singing, protests… that’s life in Calcutta. It’s always bristling with some kind of life. I love that city. I discovered musical theater in that city; I grew up in that city. It was a wonderful banquet for me to try to capture that.

You’ve talked about bringing your Punjabi background to this story about Bengals. Jhumpa Lahiri had mentioned bringing you to her parents’ home for dinner to get you better acclimated. What did you see in the Bengali personality that you had to revise in your own approach to telling this story?

Well, I’m Punjabi, but I grew up in Bengal, so I know very well how different it is. The oxygen of culture in Bengal is very inspiring to me. It’s not like I had to temper my Punjabiness, because I wasn’t making a Punjabi film. But going to [Lahiri’s] family and meeting her parents, who were, in her own admission, the way she channeled [her characters] — her mother especially, for Ashima — these were the flesh-and-blood people of the characters that she had written; that was a big key to how to play Ashoke and how to play Ashima. I even took Tabu and Irrfan, the actors, to Mr. and Mrs. Lahiri for the same reasons: They spent the day together, and it was a big, big key in how to get their characters right.

The press notes mentioned your reliance on paintings and still photos when you were developing the look of this film. What inspired you?

I love contemporary photography. Raghu Rai, a great Indian photographer, made this image of a man and a rickshaw pulling the Goddess Saraswati down a boulevard in Calcutta. That image gave me an idea: Durga and Saraswati are like the key gods of the city of Calcutta; you can’t go a block without seeing a goddess of some kind, really. I thought it would be very important to have the blessing of the goddess in our film, because it is a Bengali film, in actual sense. So that image gave me the idea to have the goddess floating above us and being lowered down to the street. It’s like that: Image will give me the idea to make a scene.

You’ve got a gallery show opening at the Sepia Gallery on March 8th. Did all this come to you upon…

I created it. I made it happen, because of the photography that I love, and we created a really photographic film. So I talked to a publisher in the summer — I designed [a companion book for the film], a mix of text from Lahiri’s novel and images from the movie as well as the images of these classic photographers. That book was the foundation of taking it to the Sepia Gallery, and I said, “Do you want to do this?” And they loved the idea.

Did your personal investment in this story inspire you to carry this project beyond just the film?

Of course. It was like total possession, I can’t tell you. And because I know how precious it is to be inspired, I really follow that inspiration. It doesn’t happen often that you have this wave of, “I have to make this. I was born to do this.”

“The Namesake” opens in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and San Francisco on March 9, rolling-out to other cities in subsequent weeks (official site).

IFC_Portlandia-S8_best-of-skits_subaru-blog

Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…