The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Saga about immigration to U.S. unwieldy, superficial

Riz Ahmed

Changez (Riz Ahmed) and Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) talk at tea house in a scene from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directed by Mira Nair. Submitted photo/Mongrel Media

Film: “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”; Cast: Riz Ahmed, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Nelsan Ellis, Imaad Shah, Adil Hussain, Haluk Bilginer and Meesha Shafi; Director: Mira Nair; Rating: ** 1/2

The film, based on the acclaimed novel of the same name authored by Mohsin Hamid, is a typical Mira Nair film in terms of the cascade of colours, textures, frames and characters. Unlike the novel, the film is a blunt, slow and pretentious work of art.

It’s about the rise and fall of a Pakistani migrant in the U.S.

The film begins with an intimidating situation — an American professor at Lahore University is kidnapped. The CIA, with the help of Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist, tries to ferret out information about the kidnapping through Changez Khan, also a professor at the same university.

At the start of the conversation, Changez insists that Bobby should listen to his story about how his life has been turned topsy-turvy after 9/11; how he was inadvertently humiliated; and why he had to abort his American Dream to return to Lahore.

The 130-minute narration meanders for the first 100 minutes and rapidly picks up pace during the last 30 minutes in a very melodramatic manner.

The film unfurls in a non-linear manner and that layers the narrative with a series of incidents that are hackneyed and predictable. With the protagonist being on an even keel, the script does not delve deeply into his psyche, but operates functionally on the situational complexities of the plot; hence it is unable to involve the audience emotionally.

Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Changez’s transition from a pragmatic and efficient business analyst to a patriotic professor in his country is superficial. The intensity of neither his humiliation nor his pain reflects in his demeanour. This is evident in two scenes that could have changed the equilibrium of the film. The first is one in which he disagrees with his boss (Kiefer Sutherland) to sack the editor publisher of a publication in Turkey while the other scene is at an art studio, when he becomes angry with his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson) while she displays her indulgent art exhibits.

Schreiber’s and Sutherland’s performances are solid but add little beyond their characters’ stereotypical American reactions to Changez’s decisions. Hudson, with her unkempt hair and gaudy dramatics, is a misfit.

Om Puri as Changez’s father is a fascinating personality but his limited screen presence is a shortcoming, as is Adil Hussain’s character, Mustafa Fazil.

Shabana Azmi as Changez’s mother walks through her role nonchalantly. Imaad Shah as Sameer, a student activist, appears comfortable on familiar grounds and is noticeable.

The only plus in the movie is its soundtrack. The film kick-starts with the qawaali “Kangnaa” sung by brothers Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammed, but it is the song “Mori araj suno” by Atif Aslam that is haunting. Meesha Shafi’s brilliantly sung “Bijli aaye ya na aye” steals the show.

Nair has taken great pains to ensure the authenticity of the settings. The smooth flow of the visuals, though appealing, is often broken with the unsteady hand-held camera work. So the rapid edits, especially during conversations, are jarring.

Despite its unwieldiness, the film nonetheless gives an impressively thoughtful exploration of the immigrant identity in the U.S. It is also worth a watch to see how America radicalizes the world.

IANS 2013-05-16 13:02:26

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