Critical Essays Novel “Versus” Film Adaptation


In 2006, The Namesake was adapted into a film directed by Mira Nair by the same title. As movie adaptations of books go, the film adaptation is very faithful to the novel. Of course, watching the movie is not a substitute for reading the book: A number of details are lost or changed to make the story fit within the film medium.

One of the ways the novel differs from the movie is the order in which events are portrayed. The novel is full of flashbacks—for example, Chapter 1 begins with pregnant Ashima’s trip to the hospital, then jumps back to Ashima’s memory of meeting Ashoke, then returns to the labor, then goes back even further to Ashoke’s near-death experience, and finally ends with Gogol’s birth. In the movie, however, nearly every event is in chronological order. The movie begins with Ashoke on the train, then moves to Ashima meeting Ashoke, subsequently progresses to their life in America, and so on.

To keep the story short enough for a feature film, the movie excludes many moments. Gogol leaps in age from first grade to twelfth grade. All of his college years are omitted, as are his relationships with Ruth and Bridget. Moushumi’s affair with Dmitri (whose name is Pierre in the movie) gets mentioned only briefly, and Dmitri/Pierre never appears onscreen.

In the movie, some events are moved around in time so they can still appear in the movie. The important events that happen to Gogol between first grade and twelfth grade (meeting Moushumi, his trip to India, his high school English class’ discussion of Nikolai Gogol) all occur during his senior year. Instead of Ashoke telling Gogol the story behind his name during a visit home from college, this conversation occurs while Gogol and Maxine are visiting the Gangulis just before Ashoke’s death. The ending is condensed by a year: Gogol and Moushumi separate the same year that Ashima sells her Boston house.

The movie simply changes some details for convenience or dramatic effect. Instead of a younger brother named Rana, Ashima has a younger sister named Rini. In the movie, Ashima is a singer, and she returns to India at the very end of the film to continue her singing. Gogol decides to be an architect while he is visiting the Taj Mahal in high school; in the novel, he doesn’t make this decision until partway through college. After his father’s death, Gogol shaves his head in mourning, whereas in the novel, he merely remembers his father having done this after his grandfather’s death.

Finally, for the sake of clarity, the movie makes a number of internal dialogues external. Where the novel shows Ashima feeling alone and confused in America inside her own mind, the movie includes scenes of Ashima accidentally shrinking clothes in American dryers and being honked at by American drivers for driving too slowly. The tensions in Gogol’s relationship with Moushumi are mostly inside Gogol’s mind in the novel: He wishes she would change her last name to “Ganguli,” and he resents her for telling her friends about his name change from “Gogol” to “Nikhil.” In the movie, these internal dialogues play out as arguments with Moushumi.

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