Mira Nair,who is equally at home directing stories from the sub-continent and from Hollywood,has merged both the worlds in The Reluctant Fundamentalist,a coming-of-age story where she deals with questions of identity and belonging.
The director,who has previously helmed films like Salaam Bombay,Mississippi Masaala,Monsoon Wedding and Amelia,has adapted Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s novel to show a young Pakistani’s love and subsequent disillusionment with America in the post 9/11 era.
“My film is about a young man who sees things for the first time. It was important to make this film for my son and all the 20 somethings of the world. It’s a coming-of-age story and it’s about how we all find our way but the way today is more complicated than 20 years ago.
“It is also about how we sit here and dream about America and when we go there,we are given this illusion of belonging. But do we really belong? The film raises these questions,” Mira Nair told PTI in an interview.
The Indian-American director,55,says that for the first time a film has “a brown person” in the lead with Riz Ahmed,who is supported by Hollywood and Bollywood A-listers like Kate Hudson,Kiefer Sutherland,Liev Schreiber,Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.
PVR is releasing the film in India this Friday,the same day it hits theatres in Pakistan. A major part of the movie is set in Lahore,which was recreated in Delhi.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist has had a great journey since its opening at the Venice International Film Festival. It has already released in the US and Mira Nair said there was enormous interest in the film.
“The Bostan bombings happened two days before the release and there was enormous interest in the movie. The audience there wanted to know why someone raised in America turns against it. My film is not just about it but it opens a window that has not been opened before. It shows how we open our arms in America and then cast out at the same moment.”
Mira Nair is a pro when it comes to adapting books,having previously made movies on William Makepeace Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’ and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.
The idea to make this film,however,did not come from the novel. It was a trip to Lahore that first inspired her to tell a story about Pakistan.
“I had used Farida Khanumji’s ghazal Aaj jaane ki zid na karo in Monsoon Wedding and after that she invited me to Lahore. She sang for me on New Year’s day in 2005 and it remains one of my most cherished experiences.
“There I saw a Lahore that you never read about in newspapers. The hospitality,the culture,the refinement and the art prompted me to tell a story about modern Pakistan,” says Mira Nair.
She encountered the manuscript of Hamid’s novel 18 months later and decided to use the novel to tell her story. Also,the novel had a potential dialogue with America.
“Mohsin is like me,he spends half his time in Pakistan and half of it in America. His novel showed a real understanding of both worlds and I thought this is the springboard that I need,” she says.
Mira Nair ended up adding a new chapter to the book while translating it to the screen with the help of Hamid,William Wheeler and Ami Boghani.
“You don’t adapt a book page by page but you do try to bring the essence to the movie. I have added things that I wanted to say in the film which opens with an eight minute of quwwali. We have added a whole third act to the novel including what Changez thinks when he returns to a modern Pakistan.”
The director,however,says that she has not tried to make this film as an anthropology lesson.
“All my films come from a very instinctive passionate space. I come to films with lot of joy and to show stories in a natural way without teaching or explaining. I do that with a sense that this is how we live. It is not an anthropology lesson.”