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East meets West over `doodh', `dahi' and `makkhan'

ZIYA US SALAM


THE NAMESAKE

(At Spice PVR, Noida; and Delhi theatres)

The Indian diaspora continues to inspire writers and filmmakers alike. Many summers ago Jhumpa Lahiri created magic by putting her inimitable pen to paper. Now Mira Nair does the same on celluloid by spinning together the fascinating story of an Indian couple finding itself torn between a past that is beguilingly beautiful and a future that comes with delicious possibilities.

Just a little hiccup: there is that lurking danger of bemoaning the past and forfeiting the future. However, a future bereft of the bricks of the past leads to inevitable disorientation.

Taking the literary exercise to a new cinematic level, Mira Nair's couple starts off as any middle class newlyweds in Calcutta of the 1970s. If Irrfan Khan plays an academic based in New York who must however come home bride-hunting, Tabu plays a girl who must agree to the match after the most polite of meetings. Together they build up a future.

She knows nothing of the country, little about him. There is never a hiccup, though, as they begin to discover inner recesses of joy. All is fine until they have their kids, who have their mindsets, their value system not exactly in consonance with the parents. The son, curiously called Gogol by a father fulfilling his ambition, is often confused. The daughter, more American than most Americans, has her share of heartburn.

And all that sundry family trips from New York to Agra or Jaipur can do is to acquaint the young with what is ours. And theirs.

If Irrfan infuses his characters with multiple nuances, Tabu lets silence speak. In fact, that is one element that the film scores with: silence. Long periods when no words are spoken, yet everything conveyed: through a window half open, through a slanting ray of light, through a forsaken bridge.

Fascinating attention to detail, honest in content, languid in pace, Nair's film has them all.

There are marts of rich delights as when Tabu finds her feet in America, when Irrfan discovers his son's personal anguish. Or Kal Penn shows hints of grey as the independent yet insecure son. Then the door is left slightly ajar as Tabu gives flashes of brilliance as a 45-year-old woman fighting her own battles. Not quite "Astitva", not by a distance, she still manages to communicate the pain of the lonely bird, the sorrow of the un-mourned.

The door opens wide and wonderful as Nair manages to take The Namesake to the level of a cinema that is leisurely, languid yet luminous. Go for it -- preferably with a mate.


NAMASTEY LONDON

(At Delite and other Delhi theatres)

Here comes a Hindi film in Punjabi, a film that is supposed to be laced with all the elements of the culture of the land: we have the mandatory bhangra sequence, women with heaps of jewellery, men with muscles and the mandatory talk of push-ups. Then there is "doodh", "dahi" and "makkhan". Add to that pre-marriage banter to go with Akshay Kumar's "Punjab da puttar" claims and you have a film that plays unabashedly, relentlessly, to the gallery.

Along the way it does a lot of damage to Punjabiyat. Thriving on stereotypes of what is a multi-layered culture, the film caters to Punjabis in India and those in the U.K., who earn in pounds and dollars and think of "doodh-lassi".

Of course, it reduces Punjabis to a homogeneous community with little space for any extra strand, leave alone contra-culture. However, that is a thought which won't even strike director Vipul Shah who would probably laugh all the way to the bank with this concoction of undying love and unparalleled supremacy of Indian culture. Not an iota of subtlety, no half measures, just full steam ahead.

He has a heroine, Katrina Kaif, replete with all the perceived ills of girls born and brought up in the U.K. So she drinks vodka, wears minis, dances in discotheques, quarrels with parents, and wants to run away from any mention of an arranged marriage with an Indian guy. However, this is where Shah is saved by Katrina. Nobody will ever make Little Miss Sunshine for her. Nobody will ever turn up to see her emoting skills. But Katrina will forever be a cool breeze; she will find her way.

She is the heart, body and poetry of this film that is deliberately loud, and aimed at the unquestioning public who accept what's on offer with glee, whistle when the hero milks a cow, clap when he launches into a sermon on the greatness of the saintly land of ours vis--vis the evil.

Here Devil does not come visiting; Angels preside. So we are told that we have the second largest Army but respect all, we have reached the moon - when did we really? - but the West still regards us as a land of snake-charmers!

Cut those profundities aside and you have at the core a love story of Akshay Kumar, a Punjabi boy from India. He finds his match in the visiting NRI girl, Katrina, who has other priorities.

How she realises his goodness, her mistakes and of the uplifting Indian culture that makes the storyline get momentum due to some witty and some corny one-liners. Some are natural, others forced into the story to bring in the moolah.

Of course, it does not need a Nostradamus to tell us that all will be well with the world. The destination is known from the first reel; it is the journey many will find exhilarating. The connoisseurs, though, might just squirm their way through.

When it comes to directors, some go in for hyperbole, others are happy with understatements.

Like Mira Nair's elegantly understated "The Namesake", Shah talks of second generation NRIs torn between parents whose heart longs for the values of traditional India, and a contemporary Western society where the individual is paramount. However, if "The Namesake" is aimed at the classes, "Namastey London" is aimed at the asses, oops, masses. Decide where you stand.

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