Identity Issues Take Center Stage in Mira Nair's ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Director Mira Nair’s latest film The Reluctant Fundamentalist opened the fourth edition of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival last week, with a VIP screening at Souq Waqif and a public showing at Katara.

The Doha Film Institute funded movie, which stars a young man wrestling with his Muslim identity while working at an elite firm in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, is arguably the most relevant premiere DTFF has hosted in its four-year history.

Sprinkled with sex scenes, Muslims drinking alcohol and cursing, the movie is also the boldest.

It is sure to resonate in Qatar, where residents navigate the cultural tensions of rising Western influences and traditional customs on a daily basis.

The film, an adaptation of author Mohsin Hamid’s Booker-nominated novel of the same name, made its Middle East and North Africa premiere in Doha after first being shown at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. It stars Riz Ahmed alongside Hollywood headliners Kate Hudson, Liev Shreiber and Kiefer Sutherland, as well as well-known subcontinental actors Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.

None of the main cast made it to today’s premiere, although some supporting actors were present, and both Nair and Hamid are in Doha.

A love story

Although “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” clearly fits in the political thriller genre, in the words of Hamid, who also co-authored the film screenplay, the film is “a love story, but it’s also a breakup story, a divorce story.”

The story centers on a young Pakistani man who immigrates to the United States to live the American dream. But as his life there moves forward, he begins to feel like he’s left something important behind.

“When [Changez] says “I love America” in the film, it is the husband who says he loved his ex-wife,” Hamid explains. 

“Normally when we hear I love America, we think it’s uncritical. You can love America and still be disappointed and have your heart broken [by it].”

Though some of the movie’s characters come off as one-dimensional, Changez is a study in nuance - purposefully so, Hamid said.

“Very often in the news today we get a very simple story,” he said. “America is good or America is bad, Pakistan is good or Pakistan is bad, India is good or India is bad. We [the filmmaking team] all feel that part of our job was to recomplicate what has been simplified and to show complexity in a story – in which one person is neither right nor wrong.”

However, Nair told Doha News at a press conference that the movie will see wide US and international release on April 26, 2013.

“People in America really responded very positively… in the festival circuit,” she said. “People long for this dialogue. So often in the States you only get one side of the story.”

She said changing mindsets and challenging stereotypes was one of her inspirations for creating the film - trying to find the middle ground between those who excuse American unilateral actions on the international stage, and those who condemn it without pause.

“I wanted to make a film about modern Pakistan, which is so different from what you read in the newspapers,” she said.

The film took five years to make, in part due to difficulties getting the screenplay exactly the way Nair wanted it, as well as getting the right cast, and was shot on location in the US, Turkey, India and Pakistan.

Did you see the movie?

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