The Namesake depicts the struggles of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli (Irrfan Khan and Tabu), first-generation immigrants from the East Indian state of West Bengal to the United States, and their American-born children Gogol (Kal Penn) and Sonia (Sahira Nair). The film takes place primarily in Kolkata, New York City and New York state suburbs.
The story begins as Ashoke and Ashima leave Calcutta and settle in New York City. Through a series of miscues, their son's nickname, Gogol (named after Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol), becomes his official birth name, an event which will shape many aspects of his life. The story chronicles Gogol's cross-cultural experiences and his exploration of his Indian heritage, as the story shifts between the United States and India.
Gogol becomes a lazy, pot smoking teenager indifferent to his cultural background. He resents many of the customs and traditions his family upholds and doesn't understand his parents. After a summer trip to India before starting college at Yale, Gogol starts opening up to his culture and becomes more accepting of it.
After college, Gogol uses his "good name" Nikhil (later shortened to Nick). He works as an architect and dates Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a white woman from a wealthy background, who is clueless about their cultural differences. Gogol falls in love with Maxine and introduces her to his parents, who struggle to understand his modern, American perspectives on dating, marriage and love. They are hesitant and guarded when meeting her. Gogol gets along with Maxine's family and feels closer to them than he does his own family.
Before he goes to Ohio for a teaching apprenticeship, Ashoke tells Gogol the story of how he came up with his name. Shortly after, while Gogol is vacationing with Maxine's family, Ashoke dies. Grieving, Gogol tries to be more like what he thinks his parents want him to be and begins following cultural customs more closely. He grows distant from Maxine and eventually breaks up with her.
Gogol rekindles a friendship with Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson), the daughter of family friends. They begin dating and soon after get married. However, the marriage is short lived as Moushumi, bored with being a wife, begins having an affair with an old boyfriend from Paris. Gogol divorces her, while Ashima blames herself for pressuring Gogol to marry a fellow Bengali. Gogol returns home to help Ashima pack the house when he finds the book Ashoke gave him as a graduation present. Searching for comfort, and accepting his new life alone, Gogol finally reads the stories written by his namesake on the train home.
As well as depicting Gogol/Nikhil's experiences, the film describes the courtship and marriage of Ashima and Ashoke, and the effect on the family from Ashoke's early death from a massive heart attack. Through experiencing his father's funeral rites on the banks of the Ganges, Gogol begins to appreciate Indian culture. Ashima's decision to move on with her life, selling the suburban family home and returning to Calcutta, unifies and ends the story.Kal Penn as Nikhil "Gogol" Ganguli
Soham Chatterjee as child Gogol aged 4 years
Tabu as Ashima Ganguli
Irrfan Khan as Ashoke Ganguli
Sahira Nair as Sonia Ganguli
Jacinda Barrett as Maxine Ratcliffe
Sebastian Roché as Chris
Linus Roache as Mr Lawson (Gogol's teacher)
Zuleikha Robinson as Moushumi Majumdar
Ruma Guha Thakurta as Ashoke's mother
Sabyasachi Chakrabarty as Ashima's father
Supriya Devi as Ashima's grandmother
Jagannath Guha as Ghosh
Sukanya as Rini
Tanushree Shankar as Ashima's mother
Tamal Roy Choudhury as Ashoke's father
Jhumpa Lahiri as Jhumpa Mashi
The film has cameo appearances by actor Samrat Chakrabarti, academic Partha Chatterjee (scholar) and visual artist Naeem Mohaiemen.
Initially Rani Mukerji and Abhishek Bachchan were considered for the principal leads, but due to scheduling conflicts, one role went to Tabu. Kal Penn was recommended to the novel by John Cho and strongly requested by Nair's son, who was a fan of Penn in Harold and Kumar.
The soundtrack has varied music: Indian, Anglo-Indian (by Nitin Sawhney, influenced by Ravi Shankar's music for Pather Panchali), and a French piece. One British Indian electronica piece is State of Bengal's "IC408." The ringtone from Moushumi's mobile phone is the song "Riviera Rendezvous" by Ursula 1000 from the album Kinda' Kinky; this is the same song that is played when Gogol and Moushumi first sleep together. The Indian classical pieces (performed on screen by Tabu) were sung by Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik, a New Jersey-based musician.
The film received favorable reviews from critics. As of 23 February 2009, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 86% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 126 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 82 out of 100, based on 33 reviews.
The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.6th - Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor
8th - Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer
8th - Claudia Puig, USA Today
9th - James Berardinelli, ReelViews
Won - Love is Folly International Film Festival (Bulgaria) - "Golden Aphrodite" - Mira Nair
Nominated - Casting Society of America - "Best Feature Film Casting" - Cindy Tolan
Nominated - Gotham Awards 2007 - "Best Film" - Mira Nair & Lydia Dean Pilcher
Nominated - Independent Spirit Award - "Best Supporting Male" - Irrfan Khan