The film, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, is an adaptation of a 2007 novel of the same name by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. The film is unlike most ‘post-9/11’ films that you’ve seen before. It revolves around a young Pakistani man, Changez Khan, who dares to live the American dream but is faced with a bitter reality check, post the catastrophic 9/11 attacks.
Without getting technical, let me put it as simply as I possibly can – ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a ‘realistic’ portrayal of an average Pakistani, who must have had to face the repercussions of living in the United States of America prior/during/after 9/11. The issue of racism has been touched upon in a very subtle manner. In addition, the protagonist does not undergo sudden bouts of extremism, owing to the treatment that he is meted out by suspecting Americans because of his religion. Not all those who have been wronged, end up with weapons and blood on their hands. This is the film’s core principle. And yes, it is the right way to go about it.
An 18-year-old Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) moves out of Lahore and goes to study in America, as he doesn’t want to be financially inept like his poet father (Om Puri). Changez wants to live the American dream and make it big in life.
And he does that, at least initially. In his early 20s, he lands up a job as a financial analyst at a big firm, where the Managing Director Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) takes him under his wing. Changez shows his mettle very early into the job and impresses his colleagues and his head Jim. The man even manages to find a great partner in Erica (Kate Hudson), a creative, independent woman coping up with the loss of her boyfriend. Back home, even though his father isn’t too impressed with the kind of work that Changez does, things get a lot better – financially.
Changez’s situation begins to go wrong as the twin towers go down in New York City (September 11, 2001 attacks). Suddenly, he is at the centre of it all – only because of his colour, nationality and religion.
While he is at the job, not once is he looked down upon or judged owing to his religion before/after 9/11. However, one incident at the workplace and one while he is working outdoors, really changes his perspective and makes him take an extreme decision.
How it gets him face-to-face with an American authority Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) at a coffee shop in Lahore in 2011, is what ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is about!
The film seems a bit long at 130-odd minutes, but the story is immensely gripping. Changez’s politics defies anything else portrayed in films made on similar subjects. There are a few moments in the second-half, when one feels that the story is digressing from the main issue. The climax is a bit half-baked, the only genuine complaint that I have with the movie. However, the monologue at the end will make you forgive every infirmity within the film. The best things about ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ are – it doesn’t celebrate America, it doesn’t offer terrorism as an unresolvable issue, it doesn’t justify extremism in any manner, it doesn’t offer any sympathy to those who pick up weapons after being wronged by society, or any other ‘cliché’. The film offers change! The lead character speaks on several occasions about how the weak would have to become more self-reliant.
Music plays a very important role in the film’s screenplay. The lyrics (which are mostly in Urdu but aided by well-translated English subtitles) are absolutely out-of-this-world. Even the poetry had so much to say between-the-lines. If you do end up watching the film, listen to the poetry and the lyrics/ keep a close watch on the subtitles.
Another notable aspect about this film was the selection of the locations. Here, Pakistan looked like Pakistan, Turkey looked like Turkey and USA looked like USA. Thankfully, there was no make-believe stuff here!
The lead actor Riz Ahmed has done a brilliant job as Changez. The other actors in the ensemble, including Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber and Imaad Shah, deliver amazing performances.
Don’t want to get too technical – but the people behind the music (Michael Andrews), cinematography (Declan Quinn), editing (Shimit Amin), casting (Cindy Tolan) and production design (Michael Carlin) must be lauded.
Director Mira Nair is back in form, and how!
If you’re not into history/current affairs, you might find this film slow and disinteresting. But, I’d suggest that you watch it anyway! Revenge is no solution, friends. Let’s work towards making our own lives better and ignoring negativity!