Reluctant Fundamentalist: Indian Director's Film about Pakistani Man

Mira Nair’s political drama opens this Friday, April 26, 2013.

“An Indian director making a film about a Pakistani man. That’s not an easy thing to do,” says novelist and co-screenwriter Mohsin Hamid of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the new film from Mira Nair, based on Hamid’s acclaimed novel of the same name.

Nair made her first visit to Pakistan in 2005. “As a child growing up in modern India, there was a wall between these countries that could never be crossed. It was 7 years ago, when I was invited to show my films in Pakistan, that I had the chance to go to the land where my father spent his youth, before the partition of India and Pakistan. To discover the country, the culture, the people—it all seemed terribly familiar. I was immediately inspired to make a contemporary film about Pakistan, especially in this day and age when the perceived schism between Islamists and the Western World becomes more pronounced each day.”

“The joy of this film,” Nair notes, “is that it reveals Pakistan in a way that one never sees it in the newspapers; with its extraordinary refinement, the searing poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, its heartstopping Sufi music and ancient culture that is confident in fashion, painting and performance. This world is fluidly juxtaposed with the energy of New York, the ruthlessness of corporate America and through our hero Changez’s love for the elegant, artistic Erica, a portrait of Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by Changez’s own family back in

Nair continues, “Over the last few years, we have seen many films about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but always told from the American point of view. In our story, the encounter between the characters of Changez and Bobby mirrors the mutual suspicion with which America and Pakistan (or the Muslim world) look at one another. We learn that as a result of America’s war on terror, Changez experiences a seismic shift in his own attitude, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love,” the director says. “But other forms of fundamentalism are revealed along the way, including the kind practiced by Changez’s former employer, Underwood Samson. Their model for global expansion is, “Focus on the Fundamentals.” From the title of the film, and from the increasingly tense atmosphere arising between Changez and his American listener, the expectation is that Changez is moving towards the revelation that he has gone, however ‘reluctantly,’ all the way over to the dark side of extremism. But is this really the case? The remarkable aspect of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is that it is a true dialogue about identity and perception, and issues around the divided self in the era of globalization.”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mira Nair’s most ambitious project yet. It is a compelling film, thought provoking, moving and sensual. Shot in five cities on three continents with a truly international cast and crew of Hollywood, Pakistani and Indian stars, led by Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Liev Schreiber, and Kiefer Sutherland, the film depicts two very different worlds coming together through dialogue.

“The book is an elegant mind game,” Nair explains. “It was about how we, East and West, see each other. I felt I intimately knew the worlds in the book, as both an insider and an outsider.” The sense of nothing being completely what it seems permeates every aspect of Nair’s film, from the characters’ divided selves, to the shooting locations, which see Atlanta standing in for New York, and Delhi substituting for Lahore and Istanbul.

“Two men meet, have a conversation. A clock is ticking. A man’s life hangs in the balance. You don’t know what will happen—who will live and who will die. The pace and the rhythm of the film are full of suspense, but I am a person who is full of an appetite for life and beauty and fun and family and fashion. In my films, you get taken on that ride, too,” the director says.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an exercise in personal healing and reconnection,” she explains. “There are elements of my own family and me that have felt impacted by the events of the past decade. The film is an attempt, among other things, to knit the pieces back together. Not by denying the tensions that have appeared, but by illustrating the ways in which we can navigate them and be human despite them.” Nair, the mother of a 21 year-old son, hopes to reach young people around the world with this film. “It’s for them, so hopefully they can be strong and recognize their journey in Changez.”

Nair’s long-time producing partner, Lydia Dean Pilcher, said some financiers early on wondered if the film would feel relevant by the time it finished, due to the volatile political landscape in which the story lives. Pilcher notes, “Unless world peace is imminent, the significance of these themes will never recede, and indeed is why the novel now widely appears on high school and college course curriculums all over the world.”

Hamid adds, “What this film gives you is a human being with whom to empathize and with whom to relate on a human level. We haven’t seen a character like Changez on film, or certainly not many of them. Moving things out of the theory, out of the hot-blooded political debate and into the emotional, human dimension is something the film does, and hopefully does well enough to disarm or surprise the audience.”