Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fairly inconclusive novel. To convert something that has an open ending into a film is challenging enough, but add to it the complexity that the book is largely a conversation between two individuals and you have an even greater challenge. Director Mira Nair has attempted to grapple with these complexities but falls short. The film is devoid of soul, suspense and drama.
Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a US educated former management consultant whose life in America, his relationship with Erica (Kate Hudson) and love for the United States is shattered after the events of September 11, 2011. Racial profiling, latent prejudices, unjust practices and stereotyping expose his vulnerability and also push him closer towards accepting his roots and identity – as a Pakistani.
The other principal character is a supposed journalist but really an undercover CIA agent Bobby (Liev Schrieber). He meets Changez in Lahore on the pretext of interviewing him for a newspaper, but is in fact trying to entrap him into revealing the whereabouts of an American academic. As Changez’s story unfolds he reveals (in flashbacks) what compelled him into being defined as a ‘reluctant fundamentalist’. But is he a fundamentalist at all?
Nair tries hard to build suspense using tools like CIA agents staking out Changez and Bobby’s meeting or the suspicious and edgy looking characters hovering around Changez in the tearoom. None of these take the narrative anywhere. The only enjoyable scenes are those of Changez’s entry into Wall Street and its staunchly capitalist ways.
Riz Ahmed is striking as Changez, delivering a nuanced and controlled performance. Kate Hudson is totally miscast as his lover while Sutherland imbibes and enhances the role of a cutthroat Wall Street consultant. Schreiber looks like he is about to faint of heatstroke. Shabana Azmi and Om Puri as Changez’s parents play roles we have seen them in too often in Indo-western films, yet they do it with renewed zeal.
Nair made a very fine adaptation of The Namesake. The same cannot be said of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.