Post-9/11 Terror Policy Breeds ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Multicultural director Mira Nair’s new dramatic thriller mines its conflict at the intersection of suspicion and belief.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Movie stars Kiefer Sutherland and Riz Ahmed

A young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) attempts to find an identity of his own in post-9/11 America in Mira Nair’s latest film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. (Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films)

Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

Even though her father hailed from Lahore, The Reluctant Fundamentalist director Mira Nair was unable to make the trip to Pakistan from her native India or her adopted home in the U.S. until 2005. Once she visited the land of her father, she knew she had to make a movie about the world she’d seen.

“When I first went there, it was dazzlingly familiar and deeply moving because it is an ocean of refinement and a great place of artistic expression—nothing like you read about in the newspapers,” says Nair. “I’ve also spent half my life in the subcontinent and half my life in America. The time has come to have a dialogue between these two worlds post-9/11. Sitting here in the West, we’re only given one point of view. It’s about time we have the other.”

The result is the array of perspectives offered in Nair’s adaptation of Mohsid Hamid’s bestselling novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which opens in theaters this week. A thriller that features American stars Kiefer Sutherland, Kate Hudson and Liev Schreiber, Nair’s latest film finds its lead in Riz Ahmed.

Ahmed plays Changez, a Pakistani-born financial analyst who achieves great success in America before the Twin Towers fall. Suddenly, he becomes an “other” in both cultures and finds himself reevaluating his identity.

The film centers around a conversation between Changez and an American journalist (Schreiber). They discuss Changez’s seeming transformation from a beneficiary of American capitalistic virtues to a Pakistan-based professor believed to be stoking anti-American sentiment and potential terrorist activity. The two men’s exchange is full of misinterpretations and simplistic reductions that speak to a troubling stalemate between nations that look to find fault in one another rather than attempt to understand each other.

“What is the truth that is given to us? Is it truth? Do we know who we imprison as the other? Is it really the other or is it simply ourselves?”

During the three years it took to bring the story to the screen, Nair needed only to look at the news to know why making the film was important.

“The way life was imitating art between the death of Osama [bin Laden]; Raymond Davis, this undercover CIA man in Lahore who killed two men in cold blood simply because he thought they were tailing him, and there was no truth to that,” says Nair in a rapid-fire burst. “So many things like that; the trigger-happy culture that had created basically this sense of deep destruction on that side of the world. We really struggled to keep the screenplay as timely as possible and not date it. It was very important to feel the absolute topicality of it right now, even though at its essence, it’s a coming-of-age story.”

“I really have made the film for the twentysomethings of the world, people who embark to find themselves who go on this journey that we all will go on, who are we really?” Nair tells TakePart. “What is the truth that is given to us? Is it truth? Do we know who we imprison as the other? Is it really the other or is it simply ourselves? That’s the important thing.”

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