The Reluctant Fundamentalist: One-on-one with Riz Ahmed

Published: April 26, 2013
Ahmed feels the experience of working with film-maker Mira Nair gave him a sense of home. PHOTO: PURVI THACKER

Ahmed feels the experience of working with film-maker Mira Nair gave him a sense of home. PHOTO: PURVI THACKER


Indian film-maker Mira Nair’s movie, The Reluctant Fundamentalist premiered in New York City at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. The international star cast including Nair, British actor Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland were all present at the red carpet.

An adaptation of acclaimed novelist Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller and Nair’s most ambitious project to date, the film’s narrative centres around a Pakistani protagonist’s journey. A compelling subject, the lead’s conflicting political ideologies explore the bicultural dialogue of the Pakistani- American equation.

The theatrical release in Pakistan is scheduled for May 17, where the film will open in the original version (in English and Urdu) as well as in a complete Urdu version called Changez. Thrilled about this, it was the realisation of a dream for Nair, who feels that the movie is her “love song to Pakistan”. She believes that the film is a celebration of not only the cinematic debut of artists and singers, but also a showcase of the rich, cultural tapestry of the country.

As the lead, Ahmed is also excited about the release of the movie in Pakistan. “Someone sent me a picture of a poster outside a big cinema in Lahore and I would just love to be there for the release,” says Ahmed. “It is important that the film is an official release because it is welcoming to the institution, which I think is huge for cinema halls in Pakistan.”

On a personal level, the experience of making this film resonated with Ahmed, who feels more immersed with his Pakistani roots. Having been raised in Britain with a family that speaks Urdu at home, he never really felt out touch culturally. However, the homework he did for the role of Changez allowed him to explore his potential. “Whether it was raising the standard of my Urdu to a point where I could read and understand Faiz or watch political discussion shows on Geo, I really tried to get to grips with it,” he says.

Ahmed also had to imbibe a sense of Pakistan from both Hamid (who co-wrote the screenplay) and novelist Ali Sethi, who acted as a guide to help him soak up Lahore from a distance. “A large part of the film is about missing Lahore and I have never been there,” explains Ahmed. He had booked a ticket when he was offered the role but was denied entry due to insurance reasons.

The experience of working with Nair also gave Ahmed a sense of home. “Sometimes we can erect these divisions between India and Pakistan or Britain and Pakistan and think that they must be really different,” he says. “While there is a cultural sensitivity that has to be taken into account and homework to be done, people are people and sometimes when you tell really specific stories, they can be universal in their impact and that’s what we are seeing with this movie.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2013.                    

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