<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Mira Nair. Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Imaad Shah, Haluk Bilginer, Nelsan Ellis
There was nothing new to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but I thought the way the story unfolded had a sensitivity and panache to it. I wasn’t bored at all and I like the way some things didn’t turn out according to stereotype. Unfortunately it had nothing new to offer an audience satiated with post 9/11 dramas.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is no Zero Dark Thirty. And in my opinion that’s a good thing. Because we’ve seen the whole CIA trying to capture the terrorist leader story a million times before. Instead, what this movie – based on a book by author Mohsin Hamid – shows us is the life of a young Pakistani boy called Changez (not ‘changes’ but more like chang-ez) Khan who sets out to live the American Dream only to come back disillusioned and suspected to be a terrorist.
Mira Nair has brought her sensibilities and sensitivities to this film, which is what makes it so smooth and pretty and focuses on the metamorphosis of our pretty boy from Pakistan and how certain stereotypes don’t change and some stereotypes are simply myths.
American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) must interview Changez in Lahore and find out if he is indeed a terrorist and whether he’s responsible for the kidnap of an American citizen working at a Pak university. This interview sets off a flashback story where Changez relates his departure from his family (played by Shabana Azmi and Om Puri) and home to work in finance in New York. His ambition and zeal and pretty boy charm manage to get him to the top. He even starts dating a pretty (but not so young Kate Hudson) photographer who is related to one of his bosses. Life is good.
Until of course 9/11 and planes taking out the World Trade Centre towers. You may find the clichéd body searches and racial profiling that Changez faces in the film to be trite and stereotypical (since you’ve seen it all before) but it’s scary to watch how he must face this and even scarier that director Mira Nair herself was subjected to such searches in real life.
What’s interesting is the portrayal of someone who is totally normal, wanting to make it big who is slowly but torturously transformed and dispirited by the very infrastructure and environment that has been his support system. Ideals and a sense of where he comes from take him back to Pakistan where he teaches and soon comes under the scanner of Big Brother.
Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Changez is faultless. He has every aspect down right. There’s no over the top melodrama, just a gradual and depressing realisation that his dreams are not what he thought them to be; that there are things more important than money and Manhattan.
A subtle but nice background score and some wonderful cinematography and beautifully captured scenes make The Reluctant Fundamentalist a treat to behold.
Naseeruddin Shah’s son Imaad Shah in his supporting role is quite good. Keifer ‘24’ Sutherland’s Jim Cross, the go-getter boss who recognises and rewards Changez’s talents, develops into an interesting character who you think would use his position of power to take advantage of the pretty boy Changez but surprisingly doesn’t!
All the performances are real and subtle and heartfelt. The one scene where Cross and Changez go to analyse and eventually shut down a publisher in Turkey is fraught with emotion. The publisher’s (Haluk Bilginer’s) lunch with Changez is a scene that made me go ‘wow’. So much can be said and conveyed with muted tones and facial expression. Deep subtlety can work more powerfully than raw, unmuted rage or passion.
For its treatment and real performances, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is worth a watch. Oh and also if you want to hear Liev Schreiber talking in Urdu, wielding a gun saying “Hat Jao, hat jao (move aside),” to a crowd of angry young Pakistani students!