The Re­luc­tant Fun­da­men­tal­ist Snitch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

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

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