Adaptation and the shifting allegiances of the indian diaspora: Jhumpa Lahiri's and mira nair's the Namesake(s)

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Date: Oct. 2014
From: Literature-Film Quarterly(Vol. 42, Issue 4)
Publisher: Salisbury State University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,856 words

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At first, there seems to be a deliberate cohesion between Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake and Mira Nair's subsequent film adaptation of it by the same name. Nair included Lahiri and her family as extras in the film; there are several interviews of both Lahiri and Nair talking about the film together; and both have contributed essays to the official pictorial movie-book, The Namesake: A Portrait qf the Film by Mira Nair Based on the Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, that comment on the transition of the novel to film. In fact, in that collection Lahiri compares the adaptation of her novel to the journey of immigrants and describes both processes as "transpos[itionl," which is to say "shifting to a different key" rather than being "displaced" (8). The emphasis in each one of these instances is on the collusion of both sets of texts and authors rather than any points of departure. As Lahiri notes of the plot-based and contextual differences between the novel and the film, "... these are particulars; the song remains the same (9).

Yet, despite the insistence by both author and director about the connection between the texts, the novel and the film are not just different in the superficial ways that Lahiri dismisses as mere "particulars," but in substance as well. In fact, Nair's film borrows from Lahiri in order to create a drastically different cultural product than the latter's, a text that is distinct not just because it employs the formal elements of a different medium and in so doing evinces a separate set of choices than those facing Lahiri as a novelist, though this is certainly true. It is also not just that Nair's film is a different text because it chooses to linger on certain relationships that Lahiri is silent about, and consequendy creates a romantic tone that was largely absent from the novel, though this too is true and significant. Most importantly, Nair's film creates a national affinity and allegiance that is not just different from but is the very reverse of the set of attachments that Lahiri investigates in her novel. Whereas the novel examines the paradox of being rooted in the cultural practices of a community defined by its migrant status, Nair creates, instead, an affinity for a different set of roots. In Nair's film the identity of diasporic subjects is determined by-and-large by nostalgia for an original and authentic homeland. Further, Nair's interpretation of home upholds the nation-state of India as being this true source of identity; among other things, Lahiri's specific East-coast-dwelling, middle-to-upper-class, Hindu, Indian Bengalis are transformed in Nair's film into, more generally, Indians. Such a flattening out of cultural differences turns away from a transnational approach and serves, instead, a nation-statist paradigm of belonging.

Despite the more popular reception of both novel and film as transnational texts that celebrate interstitial existence and border-crossing, I argue instead that both texts focus on the relief and comfort to be found in rootedness, but identify distinct sites in which...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A390323558