Many believe that in order to perform the duties of chef du bureau I have to be a cynical bastard with a dark vision, who runs from any object with a whiff of the heartwarming like a cat from a bath. This is largely true but I have a witness who sat next to me while I wiped away a tear during the Korean horror film, “The Host”, which, in addition to being a film about a mutant, vicious 50 ft. long tadpole that comes out of the Han river and eats people, is a film about a completely wacko loser family that rises to the occasion when the beloved 12 year old daughter of the family is taken by the monster. Le chef loves everyday people except when he hates them for voting for George Bush.
Mira Nair has gotten to me twice, once with “Monsoon Wedding” and now with “The Namesake”. The latter film is much more visually subdued than the former (although beautifully shot) since it takes place mostly in the North Eastern U.S. and often in winter. It’s about an immigrant Indian family and is from a novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri that Madame Le Chef informs me is excellent.
I believe that if you set out with the aim of making something heartwarming, you are descending into the debased realm of advertising and propaganda. However, if you make a work of art that produces a strong emotional reaction from the audience, without tricking them or condescending to them, then you’ve done a good day’s work.
“The Namesake” does not have a particularly complicated plot but just when you think it’s going to make a move you saw coming, it goes somewhere else. The three main actors, Irfan Khan as the dad, Tabu as the mom, and an apparently unbaked Kal Penn (of “Harold and Kumar” fame) as the son, are excellent. And, as an added bonus, Tabu is just really beautiful.
In all I’ve seen four Mira Nair films and thought the other two just okay; however, it’s clearly hard to make even one good film and she’s made two. Brava.