Based on the Mohsin Hamid novel of the same name, the film follows Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) a Princeton-educated Pakistani man who leaves his high-powered Wall Street career and his American girlfriend (Kate Hudson) to return to Pakistan after September 11. In a series of flashbacks, the viewer watches as Changez tells his story to foreign journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schrieber).
Much has been made of the fact that the Indian-born Nair made a film set in Pakistan, a conversation that perplexes her. Nair’s father studied and lived in Lahore before Partition and Nair says she always felt an affinity for the city.
“When I went to Pakistan years later when I was 47, it felt like I was going home in a deep-ish way that I never expected,” she said at a press conference promoting the film this week. “Mohsin [Hamid] says that I am an Indian director making a Pakistani film, and I appreciate that, but for me there was never a border.”
Nair said she was drawn to the story because it humanized the characters in a way that is not often seen in American popular culture.
“Post 9/11 we’ve always been subject to this monologue, we never know the other side and so I really wanted to bring that alive, to not be reductive to not be the good guys and the bad guys,” said Nair. “To portray both Bobby and Changez as complicated individuals and you know, try to lift the layers that separate us.”
A prime example of that “monologue” Nair describes was the long-running series “24” which starred Kiefer Sutherland, who also plays Changez’s boss and mentor Jim Cross in the movie. Sutherland bristled at the comparisons between “24” and the film.
“‘24’ is make-believe, we were doing ‘24’ before 9/11,” said Sutherland. “You’ve got three different jobs where someone would be up for 24 hours. The one that people knew the least about was a counter terrorist agent. It was to facilitate the structure. It’s a fantasy that. This film to me is rooted in a very strong reality. This is the real product of 9/11.”
Sutherland did credit reading the script and making the film with broadening his horizons in terms of thinking of things like civil liberties after 2001.
“I didn’t spend much time thinking of the profound ripple effect that people of a different faith — i.e. Muslim — how their lives were massively impacted,” said Sutherland. “And I was kind of embarrassed that I had never thought of that. I consider myself a relatively progressive person and it just … I think I was just so angry after 9/11 that the better part of me probably didn’t surface right away.”
Riz Ahmed, the British musician-turned-actor who plays the lead role in the film said he could relate to several of his character’s experiences, including being profiled and stereotyped.
I get pulled aside for three and a half hours every time I come [to the United States],” said Ahmed. “It’s funny, but this film almost fell apart because my U.S. visa was delayed indefinitely.”
It’s a reality and it’s sad and in my opinion it’s kind of hamfisted and a nonproductive way of managing the borders.”
Asked what they liked most about working with Nair, all of the actors present cited the environment she created on set.
“She’s the mum you always wanted,” said Sutherland. “There’s a real nurturing quality. I love her to death.”
Kate Hudson felt the same. Hudson was originally afraid she wouldn’t be able to be in the movie because she was pregnant with her second child at the scheduled start of filming, but scheduled a meeting with Nair anyway.
“She felt very familial to me. I just felt it was like meeting a soulmate and fortunately the movie pushed back and I was able to do it,” said Hudson. “She knows the story she wants to tell and she is very sensual in how she brings people together.”
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” opens today in select theaters. Director Mira Nair will do a series of Q and As after this weekend’s screenings at the IFC Theater and Lincoln Plaza in New York City at the following times:
FRI – 6:50 p.m. – Lincoln Plaza
SAT – 4:05 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. – IFC Center
SUN – 1:30 p.m. – Lincoln Plaza
SUN – 4:05 p.m. – IFC Center