TORONTO: Director Mira Nair, whose The Reluctant Fundamentalist made its North American premiere at the on-going Toronto International Film Festival, says this was her most difficult film to make after Salaam Bombay.
Based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the story of a bright, upwardly mobile Pakistani financial analyst named Changez Khan in New York whose life and American dream fall apart after 9/11 as fair-skinned people with non-western, Muslim-sounding names become suspects.
Changez Khan, played brilliantly by Pakistani-British actor Riz Ahmed, is humiliated at airports through strip-searches, called `fuck you, Osama’ and `home-grown bomber’ by passers-by and arrested and forced to admit his role in the plot.
Post 9/11, things change at his corporate office also where colleagues make nasty comments about his neatly trimmed beard, saying: `Quite a beard’ and his boss telling him that “appearances are important’’ if he is to rise in the corporate world.
As he falls out of love with artist girlfriend Erica (played by Kate Hudson), the young Pakistani financial analyst abandons his American dream and returns to Lahore at a time when an American academic has just been kidnapped. As the Pakistani police are looking for suspects, a fresh ordeal begins for Changez Khan.
Calling it the most difficult film to make, Mira Nair said, “It took us two years to arrange financing for the film as no financiers were coming forward because it was a film with a Muslim at the centre. But we were determined for creating a global landscape. We were determined on creating a thriller that makes you question: What do we know what is the other? Is it the other? Or is it us? I hope this film makes people question these dividing issues.’
She said the inspiration to do the film came during her visit to Lahore in 2006 just after she had read the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist which gave her a new portrait of Pakistan.
On the personal level, she said, the decision to make this film was guided by the fact that “my father was from Lahore and he raised his kids as Lahori in India. So the music, the poetry and the culture of what is now Pakistan flows in my blood. Once I went there, it was a moving experience and I wanted to make a tale of contemporary Pakistan because most Indians know only about the Partition, but not what it is like in Lahore today.’’
Another reason for making the film, she said, was that “having lived half my life in New York I also know what is known about Pakistan from the western side – which has rarely anything to do with what it is to be like on the streets of Lahore.’’
She said her film is about portraying the other thriving Pakistan to the world, building bridges and promoting dialogue.
Recalling the day 9/11 happened, Nair said, “It was the most shocking and inexplicable event. I was directly affected by it because my family was almost on the plane to come to Toronto because we were going to have the world premiere of Monsoon Wedding that night (in Toronto).’’
Though much of the shooting was done in Delhi, scenes of qawwali singing (which open the film), Zamzama gun and other spots such as the canal in the film were shot in Lahore, she said.
Nair didn’t give any firm date about the release of the film, but she said she was trying to release it by the end of the year.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shot in five cities.