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Rashid Irani, Hindustan Times
May 17, 2013
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Direction: Mira Nair
Actors: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson
Rating: ***

A Pakistani immigrant working as a financial analyst for an A-list Wall Street company is tasked with closing down a failing Istanbul publishing firm. At one of their meetings, the publisher talks of his country’s ancient Christian-Muslim conflict.

The analyst is also presented with a book of his poet-father in a Turkish translation. Soon afterwards, he goes to a basilica-turned-mosque to pray, has an epiphany and decides not to chase the American Dream anymore.

The lack of subtlety which pervades Mira Nair’s film is especially evident in these crucial scenes. Adapted from the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid, this well-intentioned political thriller uses the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a springboard to probe abidingly relevant issues of xenophobia, violence and extremist ideologies. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a long and lurching saga of Changez Khan (Ahmed), the twenty-something financier disenchanted with the United States.

Struggling against the upsurge of prejudice following the destruction of the twin towers, Khan finds himself a stranger in a strange land. He returns to Pakistan to take up a teaching assignment at a radicalized university. Utilizing the ungainly framing device of an interview with an American foreign correspondent (Liev Shreiber), the director feverishly cuts back and forth between Manhattan and Lahore in an attempt to ratchet up the tension.

The climactic clashes between the militant students, local authorities and the U.S. military personnel are sluggishly staged. The romantic interludes with an aspiring artist (dark haired Hudson, miscast) are wishy-washy. There are a couple of vivid vignettes such as the racial profiling and strip-search at the airport.

Recounting his emotions on the day the planes slammed into the towers, Khan says: “In that moment I should have felt sorrow and anger. But all I felt was awe and admiration for its audacity”. It’s quite an unsettling encounter. In the title role, Riz Ahmed skillfully builds up an ambiguous personality. Despite his best efforts, The Reluctant Fundamentalist leaves no lasting impression.