The Namesake (2006), dir. Mira Nair, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
Synopsis: Both the novel and film versions of The Namesake follow Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli and their family. At the beginning of the story they are newlyweds, having moved from India to Massachusetts after marrying so Ashoke could pursue a degree and career in engineering. The story then charts the progression of their lives as they adjust to American culture and create a family in their new country. Eventually, the story also focuses on the experiences that they children have as they grow up absorbed in two conflicting cultures. It’s a powerful story of family, self-acceptance and the trials of life.
Best casting decision: Tabu and Irrfan as Ashima and Ashoke are, hands down, my favorite thing about this film. They don’t portray the emotions exactly as I pictured them while reading, but this allowed me to see new dimensions in the characters that I didn’t initially pick up on. Thanks to these performances, the film far exceeded my expectations.
Which is better – book or film?: My heart belongs to Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautiful book on this one. It’s one of the most moving pieces of literature that I’ve ever read, and while the film version is great, it didn’t wow me quite as much as the novel.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), dir. The Coen Brothers, based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”
Synopsis: O Brother, Where Art Thou? takes the general premise and characters of Homer’s work and tosses them into the South in the 1930s. Three convicts – Delmar, Pete and Everett – escape from a chain gang and set off on an adventure to find “treasure” that was stashed by Everett before his life turned upside down. The three men find themselves tackling many, many mishaps and run-ins with odd characters along the way (including a bank robber, a mob of Klansmen and a one-eyed con man), all the while being tracked by the warden who wants them hanged.
Best casting decision: John Turturro as Pete Hogwallop – everything about his performance is perfect. His delivery of the dialogue, his facial expressions… he brings so much to this film. He’s a seriously underrated, extremely talented actor and this is one of my favorite performances from him.
Which is better – book or film?: Homer’s loyalists will probably soon be coming after me with a variety of torture devices for this, but I’ve got to go with the film. I’ve never been terribly interested in epic poems, as much as it pains me to admit. But this retelling is so brilliant that it made me want to reread “The Odyssey” (something I never thought I’d want to do), and showed me how fun ancient works can be when you give ’em a chance.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), dir. Robert Mulligan, based on the novel by Harper Lee
Synopsis: In the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, young Scout Finch lives with her father Atticus and her brother Jem. Scout and Jem are friends with a boy named Dill, and the three children spend most of their time fascinated by the neighborhood recluse, Boo Radley. Atticus is a lawyer who – much to the chagrin of the discriminatory townspeople – is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a man who has been accused of rape. Dual storylines play out as the children attempt to discover the truth about Boo Radley and Atticus remains steadfastly determined to bring justice for the innocent Tom. Lee’s novel addresses the issues of racial injustice, class conflict, gender roles, tolerance and compassion, and coming of age in the American South.
Best casting decision: The entire cast of this film is phenomenal, but I have to go with the natural choice of Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch. Atticus is a very strong, heroic character – a truly good man. Who better to portray a truly good man than Gregory Peck, who always gives off an air of respectability, strength and kindness?
Which is better – book or film?: This is a tough choice, because the book has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in middle school. I’d say it’s a near tie, with the book having a slight lead. (Sidenote: For another great read about growing up in the South during times of high turmoil, check out “Coming of Age in Mississippi” by Anne Moody, which is quite possibly my favorite memoir of all time. It gives a very honest and often heartbreaking look at Moody’s life, from her childhood to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.)