AFI Movie Club: THE NAMESAKE – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: THE NAMESAKE

THE NAMESAKE, which follows a young Indian American (Kal Penn) caught between his family roots in Calcutta and life in America, was directed by the acclaimed Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair – who has spoken at a Harold Lloyd Master Seminar at the American Film Institute – and shot by AFI Conservatory alum and Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal recipient Frederick Elmes. 

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THE NAMESAKE – Reelgood

In this exclusive AFI video, watch THE NAMESAKE director Mira Nair talk about filmmaking:

Movie Trivia About THE NAMESAKE

DID YOU KNOW? 

THE NAMESAKE is based on the bestselling novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri. She also makes an appearance in the movie as the character Jhumpa Maushi. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Director Mira Nair connected to “The Namesake” after suffering the personal loss of her beloved mother-in-law. She said, “When I read Jhumpa’s book it was like I had just met a person who completely understood my grief, who knew the cocoon I was in and everything I was experiencing and I told myself that I must buy the rights immediately.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Mira Nair was offered the chance to direct HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX but turned it down to work on THE NAMESAKE instead. She said, “I thought anybody could make HARRY POTTER, but THE NAMESAKE needed me.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

For research on the film, Mira Nair interviewed Jhumpa Lahiri and even visited her family to get a clearer and more intimate sense of the characters, their background and the pressures they felt as they attempt to navigate two different worlds.  

DID YOU KNOW? 

Mira Nair previously collaborated with THE NAMESAKE screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala on SALAAM BOMBAY! and MISSISSIPI MASALA. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Kal Penn was introduced to the novel “The Namesake” by John Cho – with whom he starred in HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE. Penn wrote Mira Nair an impassioned letter pitching himself for the role of Gogol. He said he was inspired to become an actor after seeing MISSISSIPPI MASALA when he was young and told her that he loved the novel “The Namesake.” He also revealed that when he checks into a hotel, he uses the alias Gogol Ganguli. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Originally, Mira Nair had Indian actor Abhishek Bachchan in mind to play the part of Gogol. In the end, the role went to American-born Kal Penn. Nair said of Penn, “He was the real thing. He was Gogol – someone who had negotiated from birth what it was like to be a brown face in a sea of white faces.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Mira Nair discovered Irrfan Khan, who plays Ashoke, when he was 18 years old and cast him in her first film, SALAAM BOMBAY! He sadly passed away in April of this year. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Academy Award®-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o worked as a post-production intern on THE NAMESAKE. Nair and Nyong’o teamed up again in 2016 for QUEEN OF KATWE, a film about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi. Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

– How is Gogol’s name tied to his identity as an Indian American? Why did his father choose to name him Gogol? 

-Gogol’s discomfort with his name is one of the novel’s overarching themes. What’s in a name? Do you think others treat us differently depending on our name? 

-How do Gogol’s expectations for his life differ from his parents’? How is the experience of cultural assimilation challenging for his parents? Do they truly want to assimilate or preserve their native culture? 

-How does Gogol’s cultural heritage impact his relationships and his experiences of love? 

-How is Gogol’s experience with love different from his parents who had an arranged marriage? 

-Why do you think Mira Nari turned down a major Hollywood franchise to direct THE NAMESAKE? Why was it such a personal film for her? 

-How does Mira Nair translate the novel’s themes of identity, belonging, American citizenship, as well as death, marriage and family love? 

-How has Mira Nair depicted the bridging of cultures throughout her career as a filmmaker? How are bridges used thematically throughout the film? 

-How would you rate THE NAMESAKE? 

New to AFI Movie Club? Want to learn more?

AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

Learn more in our FAQ section.

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