Mira Nair's latest film, a translation of Jhumpa Lahiri's emphatically praised book The Namesake, caps off a theme that has been heavy in her work thus far: assimilation and cultural duty. Though she's been making films since the mid-'80s, Nair didn't attain commercial attention until 2002 with Monsoon Wedding, an exuberant comedy about a New Delhi wedding between a woman who just ended an affair with a married producer and a native of India prospering in Texas. The modest hit gave her enough clout to secure her a director's chair on the last adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, an England-based novel given an Indian flair on the big screen.
Monsoon Wedding turned the slow grinding of cross-culture gears into a comfy piece of visual pop. It confronted the situation but seemed complacent enough to leave the confrontation in simple, digestible terms; a stylized My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In contrast, Vanity Fair, originally a satire of England's manners and traditions, was taken deep into the mystic, hitting its most absurd note when Reese Witherspoon seductively belly danced with a tribe of women from India. Though it was easy to see where these moments were pointing, The Namesake gives Nair a broad canvas and a more concise frame to study the American identity and its effects on other cultures without any affectation or pretense.
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