Filming a good novel is more often than not an extremely tough act. For one, you've got to decide what parts of the book you're gonna keep, and what parts you're gonna omit - this is a really tough balance to preserve, as upcoming filmmaker Gautham Menon undoubtedly found in his latest outing. And then, you've got to get the right actors for all the parts too; a singular mistake could well ruin the efforts of everybody else.
Mira Nair does a great job of adapting Jhumpa Lahiri's novel to screen. I thought she got both the above aspects right, though she had a bit of luck with the latter. I mean, Nair was originally about to cast Rani and Abhishek, for chrissakes. Thankfully, better sense prevailed, and we have the wonderful pair of Tabu and Irfan instead. And I do mean absolutely, spectacularly, wonderful - both of them, especially Irfan, elevate the movie from a mere realistic NRI diaspora movie to a thoughtful, caring look at the lifespan of a couple. Kal Penn is alright, I guess, he seems to do everything right, but I thought his performance didn't have 'soul', whatever little thing that it is that seperates the truly great actors from the rest.
Mira's not at her best here though - this lacks the languid fluidity of, say, a Salaam Bombay, or even a Monsoon Wedding. I mean, you can feel her trying to tug at your heartstrings in some of the scenes, like the one where Tabu lugs around a bag of laundry in icy Manhattan, or even the one where a stoic Irfan receives the news of the demise of his FIL, and then gently holds Tabu befoe breaking the news to her. However, Irfan and Tabu pull off quite a few splendid scenes, pulling back the move from a 'what-if' to a little gem. For example, there's this friggin' awesome scene, where Irfan tells his son about the origin of his name - his eye actually glistens with a teardrop that threatens to fall, but never does (somehow, this scene so reminded me of Manoj Bajpai's self-directed tirade at Raveena's bedsite, in the much-neglected 'Shool'). There were little snippets everywhere, like Irfan's and Tabu's last scene together at the airport, Tabu trying on his shoes, the entire Taj Mahal routine etc.
Ultimately, IMO, the movie belongs to Irfan. I mean, after watching the movie, he's the most poignant thing you remember about the movie. And this is despite the fact that the two most important roles in the movie belong to Tabu and Kal Penn. Also, this is such a departure from Irfan's regular normal Nana-like, dialogue-spouting venomous characters (like in Haasil, Maqbool etc), that I'm glad he got a chance to do such a role in a mainstream film like this. Hopefully, this should mean that he gets a better variety of roles, and doesn't get stuck in the same rut (like Paresh Rawal has).