VENICE: Indian director Mira Nair’s political thriller ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ left audiences awestruck in Venice on Wednesday with its powerful tale of a young Pakistani man who renounces Wall Street.
Starring British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed as the soulful Changez, the film is based on an award-winning novel by Mohsin Hamid and set in corporate New York and a richly-hued Lahore, before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It examines the traces of a young Pakistani’s journey from Wall Street high flyer to suspected radical targeted by the American intelligence following the attacks.
The adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel was directed by Mira Nair, an Indian who lives in New York, where she said attitudes towards her and others from Asia quickly changed following the 9/11 attacks. “Suddenly it became a place where people who look like us became ‘the other’ and that was painful, and that was also part of the inspiration to make this film,” she told reporters after a press screening of the movie.
She added that “I believe I’ve been put on this earth to tell stories of people like me who live between worlds.”
“It was a very complicated and painful time,” added Nair, who won the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice film festival in 2001 for ‘Monsoon Wedding’. The film-maker said she felt well placed to portray the story of Changez, who is tipped for the top in the world of high finance before the events of September 2001 turn his world upside down.
The audience gasped in horror at the humiliations Changez suffers, such as a cavity search at the airport and aggressive interrogations. Ostracised and drawing suspicion at every turn, he returns to Pakistan to teach at a university in Lahore. There he is approached by a radical militant cell that wants him to join its violent campaign against Western interests.
Ahmed, who also starred in the controversial suicide bomber comedy ‘Four Lions’, said he shared some of Changez’s frustrations. “We are to some extent defined by the labels that are slung around our neck,” he told a news conference.
Nair told reporters ahead of the evening red carpet premiere that “We all know there has been an enormous schism between the East and the West in this last decade. I sought to bring some sense of bridge-making, some sense of healing, basically some sense of communication.” Nair also said she took as her starting point the 1966 movie ‘The Battle of Algiers’, acclaimed for its even-handed treatment of the Algerian war in the 1950s.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2012.