The beauty of an artist like Irrfan is that irrespective of the movie he is a part of, he manages to leave behind a remarkable signature. We often tend to remember the movie solely because of his performance. A performance so potent that it effortlessly blends into the film forming a significant part of the film's identity. There is a certain subtlety he lends to his characters that makes them uniquely Irrfan. It is probably why he resonates so well with the diligent, soft-spoken Ashoke Ganguli from Mira Nair's The Namesake, which remains one of my favourite performances of his.
With Irrfan playing the wise and earnest Ashoke, it becomes particularly hard not to perceive the character with much affability. There is a depth in Ashoke's simplicity conveyed by Irfan's eloquent eyes. Much of the subtlety in Irrfan's performances comes by way of his expressive eyes. He beautifully emotes and projects through those eyes that speak volumes. They contain a thousand thoughts and emotions; as the well-read, hard-working young scholar, the loving husband and finally, the warm, caring father.
The movie mostly travels through Gogol's identity crisis, born as the son of Bengali immigrants Ashoke and Ashima (played by Tabu) in America. It is explored through elements and layers from Ashoke's life – a train accident, an event which changed and shaped the course of his life, his love for Russian literature, particularly Nikolai Gogol, the man he names his son after and his unvoiced love for his wife, Ashima, the woman who travelled "halfway around the world" to be with him. From a certain naivety to a much matured and understanding couple, the journey of the relationship between the headstrong Ashima and the reserved Ashoke is beautifully portrayed.
The traumatic train accident urges him to travel, eventually finding a home in New York. But the immigrant father and his American-born son live in two different New Yorks. Gogol doesn't appreciate, rather feels a bit awkward about his parents' culture. He battles a broken sense of self but realises how his identity had always been linked to his father's life journey when he reads the book his father had presented to him on his fourteenth birthday. He understands the significance of his name and how his father believed that the author saved him from the accident. Thus, Ashoke finally forms the key to how Gogol reinvents his identity as he moves towards a more self-conscious life, travelling back to his roots in Calcutta .
The Namesake, more than anything else, stands out as an intimate film that completes the idea of home. Home always brings along a sense of belonging, of security, safety and comfort. As migrants, for Ashoke, Ashima and even Gogol who was born in America; the idea of home is multi-dimensional and multi-cultural. There is absorption, adaptation and finally a universality in their concept of home. Ashoke accepts and adapts to it much earlier and much differently than his wife and son; from the time he moves to America or even as he names his son Gogol, as a remembrance to the train journey and the thought of 'being on the move' – where the idea of home is not limited to one place. Ashima, like her name suggests finds it 'limitless' as she finds comfort in being "without borders", Gogol does recognise this finally and he accepts the various cultural links in his life as a part of his identity.
"Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go." Though the movie is filled with scenes I re-watch and re-visit every now and then, I absolutely love this sequence where Ashoke drives to a beach and upon realising he forgot to bring a camera tells Gogol to capture the moment through his eyes, in his heart and devote it to his memory. As 'a man who gave you your name', Gogol learns to appreciate his father much later in life when he realises a lot of who he is, is in fact a reflection of his own father. Just as Ashoke silently but deeply influences both Ashima and Gogol through his purposeful life, Irrfan too leaves us changed as art enthusiasts forever carrying within us a bond, one that transcends grief.