Changez (Riz Ahmed), loves America. An Ivy-leaguer, he is a successful financial consultant who has everything going for him in the land of opportunity. Then he witnesses 9/11. And Changez begins to hate America. Not because he interprets the act as some subliminal belief he had within him all along, but rather, for what America does to him after. And now, the CIA want him.
Mira Nair does a great service to The Reluctant Fundamentalist (TRF), the Mohsin Hamid book – a listless series of familiar observations and endless allegories – by directing with considerable gusto and breathing life into the source material about a young man caught in an ideological crossfire of two cultures.
She starts by making it a thriller of sorts, introducing an element of a race against time to keep the frame story engaging. But the pace becomes sluggish, picking up in the second half only to fizzle out in the climax again as the FBI-in-Pak angle ends up having nothing to do with what the film is trying to say.
TRF’s strength lies in individual scenes, the ones that are more dramatic and telling than others though often operating with subtext alone. Changez is outraged at his girlfriend’s Islam-America hybrid themed art show that she exclaims is an expression of love. He is hurt and lashes out in the cruelest way and ends up alienating his only confidante.
Changez’s moments of reflection in Istanbul after a gentle but deeply scathing insight from the publisher of a firm he is there to fire, is superbly effective.”You’re the son of poet?” asks the publisher, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” That’s when Changez realizes that there is no poetry in his life. He is nothing but a mercenary, a cog in the economic house of cards that is America. He takes irreversible decisions to correct that. Here Nair chooses a few of the allegories from the book with care and keeps them intact. The one about the janissaries of the Ottoman empire have considerable impact on Changez. That and the one about the senior financial consultant and terror recruiter echoing each other’s catchphrase. About sticking to the ‘fundamentals’.
TRF is wonderfully shot even though you can clearly tell Delhi is substituted for not only Lahore but other places as well. Production design, however, does a super cover-up job with immaculate attention to detail.
Even though it has been well over a decade since 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, still has relevance. It says things the west needs to hear. I hope they do, I hope they get it. On this count, as a thought, Mira Nair could not have chosen a better subject. I suspect the subject chose her, really. But perhaps it is too subtle for this intention and will be far better understood in South Asia. Unfortunately, we already know all of this.
English, Drama, Thriller, Color