wogma rating: Watch when on TV/online (?) - But the really keen can give it a big screen shot, just for the mood
Squandering away the opportunity to make a truly thought-provoking film set around a gripping thriller, Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist instead takes the conventional, stereotype-fueled route and ends up a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps worth a watch for some, because of the look-and-feel it creates and for the lead performance by Riz Ahmed, it is nevertheless seldom more than just watchable.Read more
It seems all Hollywood has to offer us this week are adaptations of books. Mira Nair’s screen adaptation of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 book ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ appealed to me instantly because of the gritty, haunting atmosphere it creates right from the first frame of the film. However, it seldom manages to move you because of the broad, over-dramatic manner in which the story is treated. Mira Nair seems to have thrown everything she had at this film, but decided to leave subtlety in her back pocket.
Set around a fictitious incident of international significance and traveling back-and-forth in time to reveal the journey of the protagonist, the film had all the potential to be a taut, gripping thriller which subtly puts forth the message that it holds – of how every man is responsible for his own choices and that in an ideal world, religion would have nothing to with it. However, it is the simplistic and loud treatment that lets the film down almost completely, despite having so much else going for it. The film is, at its heart, an intimate story of Changez Khan, a Pakistani lad who aspires for what most of his generation in this part of the world aspire for; success in the ultimate land of dreams and opportunity – the United States of America. Built around this central premise is a story of despair, injustice, fanaticism and ambiguous morality that is a repercussion of the most ingeniously horrifying terror attack in the history of mankind.
The film tackles a theme that seems staple – how the life of a young Pakistani man, living the age-old ‘American Dream’, changes completely, post 9/11. It shows you what you’ve already seen or heard before – about how every person of South East Asian decent, specifically, every man with a Muslim surname or with a beard, was targeted and singled out for suspicion and eventual degradation and humiliation.
Changez’s journey starts off truly engaging you; a lot of this has to do with the performance of Riz Ahmed. The graph of his character, the slow build up of aspirations and love are wonderfully captured by his physicality as well as his eyes. Then, despite the eventual direction that his character takes being established too weakly, Ahmed holds fort and manages to carry you along with him. However, the film primarily fails in what sets this film apart from a regular emotional tale – the thriller format of the narrative. Then there is the black-and-white as opposed to the gray that a story like this should stand for.
I haven’t read the novel, so I don’t know if the sharp lines with which characters and situations are etched are derived from the source itself. However, I couldn’t help get the feeling that the book was essentially a film masquerading as a novel – the story and narrative technique appear to have such strong cinematic potential that a film adaptation was almost inevitable. Add to that the visual treatment that Nair gives to the film; I eventually lost count of how many times I told myself what a lost chance this film is.
Riz Ahmed’s performance is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Shabana Azmi and Om Puri, who play his Pakistani parents, are a joy despite their brief roles. Kiefer Sutherland as Changez’s ice-cool, ambitious boss is perfect as well. Liev Schreiber who plays a journalist and one half of the conversation that is the core situation around which the film is set, does a fair job, but I often felt that he lacked the intensity that Riz Ahmed had. And how one wishes that the terrific Adil Hussain had more to do than just smile and mutter in a couple of scenes.
The film also has a charming little Sufi-flavoured background score that has more than one good song. In fact, as I said earlier, the film had a lot going for it which makes it a fair technical achievement. It is in the overdone dramatics and thrill factor that the film really loses the plot. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the kind of film I’d only recommend to those who feel satisfied by a film if even just a few aspects of it – the mood, visuals and Riz’s performance in this case – work. Otherwise, it may be hard to find the film anything more than passable.
This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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