Direction: Mira Nair
Mira Nair takes on the daunting task of adapting Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and skillfully transforms a monologue into an engaging plot. She weaves an elaborate tale, infusing it with warmth and texture.
Mira Nair’s narrative feels like a constant dialogue with the audience where she questions our presumptuous notions of the “other”. She introduces a third act; what does her protagonist do once the alienation is complete, after Changez (Riz Ahmed) decides to give up his American dream and return to Pakistan, a nation in turmoil? The third act provides a perspective and makes us hopeful of a possible closure.
Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is charming and intelligent, excelling first at Princeton University and soon establishing himself as a successful business analyst on Wall Street. His professional achievements are complimented as he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Erica (Kate Hudson). The “promised land” has been good to him, it embraces him and his talents without any discrimination.
Post 9/11, America’s reaction to the unfortunate events sets a completely different agenda for the rest of the world; there is no place for a discourse any more, you are either with the US or you are not. For Changez from Lahore with Khan as his surname, there was hardly a choice, he says, “You picked a side after 9/11, I didn’t have to. It was picked for me”. Riz Ahmed’s portrayal is sensitive and well nuanced, his face mirrors his inner conflicts like a mirage and his expressive eyes saying much more than any rhetoric could.
Nair plays with hues and spaces. Changez’s autumn in New York is depicted with warm colors. However, as he watches the coverage of the collapse of the twin towers, the color seeps away, the spaces close-in. We feel claustrophobic every time our protagonist is asked to step aside for a special security check. His silence conveying his humiliation as he is asked to remove his clothes, his quite eyes questioning why is he is being stripped of his self-respect over and over again? He has been a law-abiding American after all.
Once back in Pakistan, Changez is a charismatic leader. Is he instigating young impressionable minds? Does he know of the whereabouts of the kidnapped foreign professor? Will he remain a mute spectator as fundamentalists have their way? Is his silence a way of settling scores with the West that has betrayed him? You find yourself repeatedly asking these questions as the taut script builds up the climax to a crescendo.
What left me a little disappointed was the romantic track between Changez and Erica, it seemed a little superfluous, lacking the depth it had effectively conveyed in the book; the sketchy depiction belied a slightly uncertain approach. I guess, Changez’s tumultuous relationship with the US takes precedence. Much like a toxic romantic relationship, Changez makes numerous attempts to make peace with it but is repeatedly heartbroken.
Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a must watch not only because the director exhibits rare craft as a filmmaker but essentially because it helps us make an attempt to understand the "other" which will probably some day help us find closure.