This was an excellent film to demonstrate what it would be like to experience multi-nationality and a “pulling” in different directions by very different cultures. Gogol is a great example of this, with so many reasons – mostly centered around his name, of course. He rejects his name, is constantly made fun of (“goggles” was one of my favorites) for it by his American peers with whom he identifies, and even goes so far as to change it back to his good name. This is among other things too, of course. Gogol’s very attitude is always very exasperated with anything overly Indian that his parents do, and he does things like listen to American rock music. He even dates a quintessentially American girl, Max. He kind of even briefly adopts Max’s parents as surrogates for the American experience. It is a rejection of his born culture in favor of the culture of his peers.
But really, what is incredibly sad and perhaps not discussed as much in the shadow of Gogol’s obvious experiences are the experiences of his parents. Being expats still greatly invested in their native culture, they don’t at all understand what Gogol is experiencing, and as a result he draws away from them. When Ashoke dies, Ashima is left all alone without her family, and though later in the movie Gogol grows more and more to accept Bengali culture, that moment when she set down the phone and the room was empty and cold and quiet in a foreign country with no husband and no children, she was so utterly alone. She lives among a small Indian community, of course, but the lack of their presence or her reaching out to them in that scene is likely symbolic of her loneliness, because they just aren’t good enough substitutes for her real family. The viewer was meant to feel alone with her, and feel her pain. Had there been a friend or a neighbor there, that scene would have become about the loss of Ashoke, and been much less heartwrenching (it was still sad though, of course).
Having a transnational identity clearly can both broaden horizons and present new opportunities, but it opens people up to a different kind of suffering that people like me, for example, may never have to experience nestled in the comfort of familiar surroundings and family.