I don’t know why I had never read Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel but I just never got around to it. I had loved her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies and had looked forward to reading her novel. Well, this is the next best thing. Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), I suspect this is a fairly faithful adaptation of Lahiri’s novel about the multigenerational immigrant experience.
The first (immigrants from Calcutta) generation is Ashoke (Irfan) and Tabu as Ashima, his arranged marriage wife. It’s a good marriage though. The second generation however, is a different story. They have two children, both born in America, but the story primarily focuses on the son: Gogol (Kai Penn of Harold and Kumar fame). The story of how Gogol was named is a recurring theme throughout the film. Gogol’s father is a voracious reader and his favorite writer is Gogol, especially the story “The Overcoat” which has particular significance for him – and has a life lesson in store for his son.
There are many fine extended scenes of the pair of new immigrants as they get to know one another and get to know their new environment as well. Nair shares a faithful insight into how it is for immigrants, how they fit in, how they struggle to adapt and struggle to preserve a heritage as the same time. The performances by the actors portraying the parents are particularly well done, especially that of Tabu who shows a wide range of controlled emotion, and ‘controlled’ emotion is particularly difficult.