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Front seat: Back to basics

June 02, 2013

“What is the Pakistani dream? One that does not involve immigrating?” asks a US-returned Changez to a class full of students. Scrawny, with large expressive eyes and a modest beard, Riz Ahmed plays the role of a man who attained his dreams and saw them all go, to perfection.

Mira Nair’s much-anticipated adaptation of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s eponymous book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, premiered last month in Pakistan. The story revolves around Changez who originally hails from Lahore and who is living the American dream. As a Princeton graduate, he gets a cushy job with Underwood and Samson trimming unnecessary fat from companies (a job he is shown to be extremely good at) and a gori artist girlfriend who hangs on to the trauma of losing her previous beau and who uses Changez in some of her art installations. Life is perfect until 9/11 literally crashes into his life and he sees his seemingly idyllic life slowly go up in smoke in post-9/11 racist America.

He returns to Pakistan beaten and subdued but not defeated, with a newfound sense of clarity regarding his own identity within the larger socio-political context of the world. And decides to become vocal about it.

The film stars British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed in the lead as Changez, Kate Hudson as Erica his love interest, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi as Changez’s parents, Meesha Shafi as his sister Bina, Kiefer Sutherland as his boss Jim Cross and Live Schreiber as Bobby Lincoln, the journalist/spy who Changez tells his story to.

Although her role is small, Meesha Shafi’s role as Changez’s sister Bina, is visible and she makes the most of it. Shafi’s portrayal of Bina appears natural and effortless as if the role was tailored especially for her.

The film is shot beautifully, flows smoothly and is incredibly well made. It is a serious film and the pace of the film at times can appear to be rather slow. On the other hand that also allows the viewer to intimately experience the change that Changez goes through from how he was before 9/11 and what he becomes after. Riz Ahmed delivers a near flawless performance.

A part of the essence of the film can easily be summed up in this dialogue spoken by a publisher Changez has to fire, Nazmi Kemal (played by veteran Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer), “Young men don’t make good mercenaries. They need a cause to stand for.”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist deals with the politics of conflict, race, identity and how the power of perception is strong enough to determine the difference between life and death. There is also an escape scene uncannily similar to the Raymond Davis incident. For the average Pakistani the film is life as he/she knows it — either as experienced on a personal level or through the experiences of another person.

Soundtrack Some of the prominent songs from the soundtrack is what any aficionado of contemporary Pakistani music would already be familiar with. The film opens with the Coke Studio version of Kangna by Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal. It features a performance by Meesha Shafi on her own original song, Bijli Aaye ya na Aaye. Atif Aslam’s rendition of Mori Araj Suno composed jointly by Michael Andrews and Atif Aslam provides the perfect background score to both the inner and outer turmoil Changez goes through in the film and gives voice to his sense of anguish. A film based predominantly in Pakistani, on a novel by a Pakistani actor, employing a mix of Pakistani characters and using popular Pakistani music, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (although made by a foreigner), can’t get any more Pakistani than this.