One of the most admired woman film writer/producer/directors ever, Mira Nair needs no introduction. Born in Bhubaneshwar, Nair went on to study in Delhi University and later Harvard. Her latest film ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ is based on a novella of the same name by Mohsin Hamid.
Published in 2007, the book depicts a ‘frame story’ – a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented for the purpose of setting the stage for a more emphasized second narrative. A man named Changez shares the stories of the dreams and disappointments in his life in USA and later back in Pakistan. A diffcult to adopt tale, I was interested in seeing how Nair had translated the essence of the book on celluloid.
The film opens with a shot of an American man with an Asian woman coming out of a theatre in Lahore and keeps cutting to a wonderfully melodious Sufi mehfil in an evidently well to do household. A bottle of scotch is brought in surreptitiously to enhance the musical gathering. A young bearded man keeps checking his phone for some obviously important calls and messages while the American is abducted by a group of men. Is there a connection….you wonder.
We learn that the abducted American is Anse Rainier (Gary Richardson), a professor at the local university where Changez (Riz Ahmed), the bearded young man we saw earlier also teaches. Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist based in Lahore gets a chance to interview Changez in a popular tea house and we realize Changez is a firebrand and mentor to large group of students. The film flows intricately in and out of the present tea house to Changez’s past in the USA. His Princeton degree, successful interview for the position of a financial valuer and analyst at Underwood Samson, his brilliance and growth within the organization, his love affair with Erica (Kate Hudson) the reasons why he loves America, his interactions with family back home in Lahore, how the 9/11 attacks destroy the life he had built, his growing resentment against bias and prejudice…..all get seamlessly woven with the current abduction intrigue playing out with policemen, agitating students and US intelligence agencies. The journalist seems to be more than just a journalist and we start fearing for Changez’s safety.
I enjoyed the film. Had I not read the book 4 days prior to watching the film, I would have totally loved it. The part that jarred like crazy was Mira Nair’s take on Erica. The Erica in the book is young, fit (a martial arts expert), almost ethereal and in love with a man who had died years ago. Kate Hudson is chunky with a puffy face and comes across as the older woman rather than the young girl Changez is supposed to fall in love with. In my opinion, Changez’s meeting with Erica, her character and the culmination of their romance/affair is a crucial part of the book. But Nair completely changes this bit and turns it into an unexciting and uninspiring interlude where Erica’s character comes across as shallow and fake. Making her the niece of Changez’s boss was again a meaningless addition to the narrative.
Now that I have waxed eloquent on what I did not like about the film, let me mention the plus points. Very few protagonists manage to carry off an entire film without slackening even once, but Riz Ahmed manages it effortlessly. His intensity on screen forms a great background for this fantastic performance. The fact that he is easy on the eye is an added bonus! Ladies – you can watch the movie just for him. The film also boasts of a phenomenal soundtrack with music from Coke Studio Pakistan, Peter Gabriel and Atif Aslam to name a few. The underlying message of sticking with the ‘fundamentals’ used in the US corporation and within the echelons of terrorist organizations is brought out wonderfully. Om Puri and Shabana Azmi shine in their small roles as Changez’s parents.
Definitely one to watch folks.
Copyright© Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa May 2013
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