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A Tale Of Two Cities
When it came to developing a look for THE NAMESAKE, Mira Nair, who has long been renowned as a boldly creative visual stylist, was confronted with bringing fresh perspective to two cities that have been lavished with cinematic attention: New York and Calcutta. Having lived and worked in both cities, Nair was equally in love with the inimitable sights and sounds of both – and hoped to bring to THE NAMESAKE the sense of teeming humanity and passion that they share.

"It was very important to me to capture the color, the vibrancy, the beauty and the commonality of these two great cities,” says Nair. "They each carry that same creative energy and bustle – so, for me, the language of the streets in both cities became a very important link to glue these two worlds together.”

Producer Lydia Pilcher sensed right away that Nair was heading into new visual territory. "I saw that her vision for this film was quite different from any of the stylistic choices she had made in the past. There wasn't going to be the kinetic energy of say MONSOON WEDDING or HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS,” Pilcher says. "This film was going to have a peaceful, elegiac quality with Mira drawing on her deep connection to still photography as a major source of inspiration.”

Nair collaborated closely with cinematographer Frederick Elmes and production designer Stephanie Carroll in developing the film's aesthetic. Elmes, who has worked with such visually innovative filmmakers as David Lynch, Ang Lee and Jim Jarmusch, was thrilled to have a chance to work with Nair. He was also drawn to the screenplay itself. "It's a story that takes place in the U.S. and India but it could be anywhere in the world because at heart it is about how worlds clash and then ultimately mix together,” he says. "To capture this, Mira and I talked at length about how to unite rather than divide the two cities of New York and Calcutta. When talking about the color palette, we never spoke about one city without bringing up the contrasts and similarities with the other – but even then the overriding value was to always have the images emerge from the very universal emotions that the film explores.”

Nair and Elmes came up with ways to visually extend the sense of cultural confusion that permeates the Gangulis' emotional lives. "One of things we played with was sometimes intentionally misleading the audiences for just a few seconds so that you aren't always quite sure what city you're in. There are fleeting moments of juxtaposition that might seem to go right past you, but subliminally they add to the sense of moving between two places that have both have strong emotional pulls,” Elmes explains.

Throughout the film, certain visual themes further link the Gangulis' lives in dual countries. Richly symbolic on their own, the two city's striking bridges became another natural visual connection. "There's this beautiful bridge in Calcutta, the Howrah Bridge over the Hooghly River, that's a touch-point in the film. It's often in the background of our shots. Then, when Ashima is in the hospital giving birth to Gogol, we chose a background that looks out to the somewhat similar 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan. It's another situation where you look out the window, and, for a moment, you're not quite sure which city you're gazing at.”

Meanwhile, Nair's often intrepid and emotive sense of color was brought to life by production designer Stephanie Carroll in her fourth collaboration with the director as a production designer. Carroll carefully elucidated very specific and controlled color palettes for each of the film's characters that remain with them even as they cross countries. "Stephanie is simply brilliant,” comments Elmes who has worked with her twice before. "She has a completely unique vision that meshes so well with Mira's and I think she did an amazing job bringing out<

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