The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Directed by Mira Nair, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a 2013 movie based on the 2007 book of the same name by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. The story differs quite a bit from the book, which is about the impact on one man of the Al Qaida attacks and the American reaction to them. The movie stars Pakistani-British rapper Riz Ahmed in the lead role along with Kate Hudson, Keifer Sutherland, Leiv Schreiber, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri,  an almost non-recognizable Nelson Ellis and Martin Donovan.

In 2011 an American professor at Lahore University, Anse Rainer, is kidnapped from the streets at night and held for ransom. A ransom video is sent to the local newspaper demanding release of 690 detainees from a Muslim concentration camp in Kot Lakhpat and €700,000 for the children of Waziristan. The CIA sends American journalist, also an undercover operative based in Lahore, Bobby Lincoln to set up an interview with Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), who they suspect in being involved in the kidnapping. As the two settled down at a table in a small but popular tea shop & hotel, Changez starts off the interview calling attention to his admiration in the US for the equal playing field in economic advancement. He tells Bobby about his life, growing up as the son of a famous poet, who’s family are slowly moving down the economic lane. Things change for Changez as he gets a scholarship to Princeton as an 18 year old and following graduation he gets hired at a top Wall Street valuation firm, Underwood Samson. Under the mentorship of Jim Cross, a Managing Director who hired him, Changez is soon on his way up. He meets and befriends Erica, an aspiring writer and photographer, who took some photos of him at a skating park.

When he meets Erica again at a party, they both click and begin a relationship although Erica is still affected by the death of Chris, her boyfriend, and initially is unable to have sex. Their relationship progresses when Changez asks her to pretend he is Chris. While on a business trip to Manila, Changez watches the news reports of the World Trade Center attacks and he is separated by officials on entry to the US is subjected to a demeaning strip search in New York. His life seems to change after that and his only solace is his relationship with Erica. As tells Bobby, although he was appalled by the death of over 3000 people he still felt a moment of awe for the audacity of “David striking Goliath”. He starts growing a beard, which his co-workers & boss think is not helping. He noticed the changes in people, some becoming more suspicious of foreigners, while others seem to exploit things for their benefitAt one point as he is leaving his office, a crazed Muslim vendor starts mouthing off and threatening people. Someone calls the cops and they arrest Changez and produce him for interrogation; the irony of a black police officer arresting any one matching the description of “brown” is not lost. He breaks up with Erica when he finds out that she had made her life with him as the subject of her art show and is humiliated, causing him to say hurtful things to her.

While valuating a publisher in Istanbul, Changez finds it worthless but then discovers they have translated into Turkish and published some of his father’s work so he realizes that the company has preserved culture which cannot be measured merely in terms of money thus unable to fire the publisher. So, he resigns from Underwood Samson despite the protestations of Cross but makes amends with Erica just before he leaves for Lahore. Once back home, he finds that foreign professors are leaving the University en masse so is hired to lecture. He voices dissatisfaction with US intrusion in Pakistan which brings attention to him by suspected Al-Qaida members, raiding of his office and family home and threats to his family. At this point in the conversation at the cafe, protestors gather outside and Bobby gets periodic pressure from the CIA to get information from Changez about the location of kidnapped Rainier. The protests become increasing hostile, Changez offers that he has heard of a butcher shop but contact is lost before the information can be phoned to the CIA operatives that are with the assistance of Pakistani officers coming to extract Bobby. Bobby panics on getting a photo of a dead Rainer on his phone and on seeing that Changez has also been using his cell.

Bobby believes the only way to safety is to use Changez as a shield venturing into the hostile crowded street. Attempts are made to keep the crowd stable but things get worse and Lincoln falls to the ground, his gun goes off and hits Sameer, one of Changez’s militant students. A militant sniper shoots Lincoln. The CIA remove Lincoln who then finds out that Rainer died earlier that day and Changez offered to work with the CIA; the text message he sent was to his sister, Bina. Bobby regrets his hastiness and is taken to a hospital to be treated. Changez delivers a eulogy at Sameer’s funeral as Lincoln recuperates in hospital, recalling Changez’s words – “Looks can be deceiving. I am a lover of America …. although I have been raised to be very Pakistani.”

Very well acted and setup, the movie is extremely engaging and interesting. I felt that the plot lost it’s way at the end as they should have found a better way to close things. Highly recommend this to others though. 8 outta 10!

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