SHADOWED BY TERRORISM
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Snitch
Limited release from Thursday
(M) ★★★✩✩ National release
MOHSIN Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist was published in 2007 and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Devastating in its simplicity and wit, the book revolves around a conversation in a teashop in Lahore between a bearded Muslim and a quiet American. The meeting is initiated by the Pakistani (‘‘May I be of assistance? I see I have alarmed you . . .’’) and during the course of a couple of hours he tells the stranger the story of his life and how it was affected by the events of September 11, 2001. Hamid himself was reared in Lahore and like Changez, the character in his book, he attended Princeton and had a high-powered job on Wall Street.
Films about 9/11 and the American reaction to those terrible events haven’t been very popular for obvious reasons. Indian director Mira Nair (born in Orissa) contributed an episode to one of them, the multi-part September 11 (2002), in which she told the true story of
(M) ★★★★✩ a Pakistani woman whose husband disappeared on that day. The FBI informed her he was probably one of the terrorists, and she was shunned by friends and neighbours. Later his body was discovered at Ground Zero and it became obvious that he was actually a hero, trying to help people escape from the building. Nair, who was educated in Delhi and at Harvard, was in New York on that day and saw at first hand the effect the tragedy had on visitors from the subcontinent like her, no matter how proAmerican they might be, so you could not imagine a better person to direct Hamid’s book than the director of Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala.
Admirers of the book may be disappointed at first by the fact the film opens out the story. The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s screenplay was adapted by William Wheeler in collaboration with Hamid, who presumably approved of the changes. In the film, the meeting in the teahouse takes place against a highly charged backdrop: an American academic has been kidnapped from a local university by militants, the police are rounding up the usual suspects and it’s clear from the start (not so clear in the book) that the quiet American, Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), is a CIA agent. This arguably unnecessary addition to an already lucid narrative adds a level of suspense but doesn’t detract from the core of the drama, in which Changez, played by talented British actor Riz Ahmed, tells his story.
The son of a famous poet (Om Puri), he grew up filled with admiration for American culture and the American dream. At 18 he won a scholarship to Princeton and, on graduating, secured a top job at a major Wall Street firm as a business analyst. He’s very good at what he does and his boss and mentor Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) is soon giving him a great deal of responsibility. By now he is living in a New York apartment and dating Erica (Kate Hudson), a photographic artist. He’s on top of the world — and then comes 9/11.
Given the enormity of that crime, the reaction of ordinary Americans is understandable. But Nair and Hamid invite us to experience what it was like for Muslims and others from the subcontinent who were perfectly innocent and