New Delhi: It's a story that we have heard before. Perhaps different versions, but the milieu has been the same- of that of the plight of innocent south Asians in US post 9/11.
Mira Nair's latest 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' tries to explore the plight of an educated Pakistani man working in Wall Street post the terror attack. While the subject is not new- several films, documentaries and books have been written on this very topic before, the film itself tries to break a few stereotypes that exist in our modern day society.
In its opening scene, the film promises to be taut thriller with a American professor being kidnapped in the middle of the night from the streets of Lahore. The scene, beautifully captured oscillates between the dingy alleys of Lahore where the Professor is kidnapped to Changez Khan's (Riz Ahmed) house where a 'jalsa' is taking place. And where Changez himself in between attending the guests, shiftily looks at his phone every five minutes, presumably coordinating with the kidnappers. In a night of uncertainty an office is ransacked, a Professor is kidnapped while the elite class of Lahore sit and enjoy the good things of life in the cosy comfort of their home.
Based on Mohsin Hamid's book of the same name, the film narrates the story of Changez Khan (Ahmed) a man who 'loves America' and yet because of identity (he is a Pakistani) has to prove his loyalty towards the US post 9/11. In spite of a cushy job in a financial firm and an American girlfriend, Changez is often questioned and doubted for his ethnicity, till one day he leaves everything to come back to his land to start afresh only to be misunderstood by the US again for propagating a student's movement in Lahore university against foreign invasion.
With a non linear narrative, the film keeps shifting focus between present day Lahore- where Khan narrates his story to journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) in a Tea shop within the university of Lahore to the swanky intimidating streets of New York, where Changez worked as a financial analyst ten years back. The contrast of the two set up, both having Khan as an integral part of it, show the journey of a character who set out to pursue his American dream only to realize later his true calling.
While the first scene is gripping and gives an indication to what lies ahead in the next two hours, the film's pace slackens in the later half and perhaps mars the narrative to quite an extent. The film has quintessential Mira Nair feel to it, in terms of its canvas, the punjabiyat of the characters, the colours in the background and even the soulful folk music that plays a poignant role in the film. But it also lacks the warmth that Nair's films have always boasted of having.
The film tries to explore another side of Pakistan- that of those who are against war and violence who want peace to prevail in the stifling society that they live in. It also shows the lifestyle of the elite in Pakistan- which is similar to any of ours in the sub continent, where the Muslim family drinks and enjoys qawali, where the women aren't tucked away behind purdah. It raises important questions about one's identity and how in spite of not being a radical, one can serve the country and attempt to bring a change. But while the film deals with very relevant issues, it somehow fails to create a deep impact on the audience.
The film is about Changez Khan, and actor Riz Ahmed plays the role to almost perfection. The soft spoken, focused Khan climbs up the corporate ladder steadily and the scenes where he does a celebratory jig to celebrate his victories are poignant and superbly performed. But while Ahmed and Liev Schreiber get meaty roles and are there in most part of the film, Nair 'wastes' several talented actors in the film. From Shabana Azmi to Om Puri to even Adil Husaain, all have small parts to play in the film and shine in their respective two minute roles. When you have the ability and clout to cast such talented actors as background characters, why not use them to the hilt? There is even actor Chandrachur Singh (of 'Maachis' fame) somewhere in the background playing Changez' uncle. Why was Singh cast in such a minuscule and dare-I- say irrelevant role is something that only the director can answer.
So does the film work? In spite of its relevance in today's time, the film's pace and lack of emotional connect makes Mira Nair's latest film a tad disappointing It lacks any powerful scene unlike Nair's previous films, and it fails to use its good actors in enhancing the overall film.
Watch it to see the other side of Pakistan but don't expect it linger in your thoughts after you come out of the theater.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5