A film of extremes: how did The Reluctant Fundamentalist fair in Doha?
If Mira Nair’s critically acclaimed and commercial hit Monsoon Wedding (2001) was a study of complicated human relationships presented in a palette only Indian weddings can bring, then The Reluctant Fundamentalist sees her back in her colourful element, but with a more serious tone. The film, an adaptation of a bestseller of the same name by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, looks at the relationship between east and west, their perception of each other and how that translates into how they react when their worlds collide. It is also a commentary on fundamentalism -- whether it’s terrorist ideals, or capitalism.
Changez Khan (Riz Ahmad) is a firebrand lecturer at a Lahore university who is suspected by the CIA of having a hand in the kidnapping of an American professor in Pakistan. An investigative journalist, Bobby, played by a very intense Liev Schreiber, tracks him down in the hopes of getting to the truth. The conversation between these two characters unfolds the story, told in a series of flashbacks, but also returning ever so often to the two men, whose relationship, as the multi-layered plot is slowly revealed, changes dynamics and the audience is left guessing who really to root for.
Khan, we come to learn, was a Princeton graduate who rose swiftly to the top of a Manhattan firm. An an investment analyst, he travels the world, ruthlessly helping companies to maximise profits by cutting “unnecessary fat”. He quickly becomes torn between his parents’ pride and the things he has to do to attain it. Then, September 11 happens and changes his life. Profiled for the colour of his skin, he adamantly stands up for his identity in an increasingly suspicious world, which leads to tension between his American girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson) and his mentor (Kiefer Sutherland). Khan eventually severs his ties with America and returns to Pakistan to inspire the youth; there, his ideals are bombarded by the east’s perceived notion of the west, which he knows so well but has become disillusioned with.
A slightly deglamourised Hudson shares an easy camaraderie with Ahmad, and plays her role of an artist still mourning the loss of an ex-boyfriend to great effect while Sutherland is perfect as a Gordon Gekko-style financial head. Schreiber, as an Urdu-speaking journalist convinces and makes us suspicious throughout that his objectivity perhaps might not be well placed. Indian veterans Om Puri and Shabana Azmi play their roles as Khan’s doting parents perfectly. But The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Ahmad’s film. He is in almost every frame and carries it with great aplomb, his intense eyes often belying the love of country with the love of a life he once believed to be true. Nair expertly keeps the tension going and builds it up to the very last scene where it all tragically ends, and where the audience is left with two very different but very real ideals, both wrong but also both right in their own way.