Mira Nair’s Reluctant Fundamentalist adaptation (older post updated)

thanks to Ami..
LINK

Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist on its final leg now, is being shot in New Delhi. To make sure the schedule gets completed properly, Mira Nair has roped in Shimit Amin, famous for his directorial ventures Ab Tak Chappan and Chak De! India as the editor and director of the second unit. The director, after his last film Rocket Singh – Salesman Of The Year, decided to take a sabbatical from direction and go back to where he started from – film editing.

A source informed Mumbai Mirror, “The break to edit Mira Nair’s film is Shimit’s way of going back to his roots. And his job in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is going to be tougher that it seems. He would have to make Delhi look like Lahore. Also, Mira needed shots of Old Delhi and other crowded parts of the city. So, she persuaded Shimit to handle the second unit. Shimit was reluctant since he is editing the film. But Mira dragged Shimit into directing the second unit”

Keifer Sutherland comes to India

Needless to say, the key actors, including Kiefer Sutherland (better known as Jack Bauer, his character in the American television series 24) was in the national capital with his co-actors to shoot for the film.

In fact, the actor, who left the country last week after finishing his part in the film, became a talk of the unit with his camaraderie with Azmi. Sutherland and Azmi not only bonded over their common passion – acting, but also their common friend Anil Kapoor. Sutherland who worked with Kapoor in the tele-series 24, was seen chatting with Azmi about the very man.

“Riz Ahmed, Shabana Azmi and Keifer Sutherland talked a lot about Anil Kapoor. They also chatted about the diaspora and Indian cinema. Om Puri however, remained largely aloof from the idle talk, lost in his own world,” revealed a source.

Creating Lahore in Delhi

The Delhi schedule of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is however, not all about happy friendships. After trying her best to get permission to shoot in Lahore, the place the novel is based, Mira Nair finally decided to recreate the Pakistani city in Delhi.

However, this decision too seemed to pose a problem for the filmmaker. Though, Nair obtained the necessary permission to shoot in Delhi, the fact that the national capital has to masquerade as Lahore, did not go down too well with certain sections of the government and bureaucracy.

A source close to the film revealed, “We’re shooting in Delhi. But it’s meant to be Lahore. We can’t broadcast this fact. Any hint of the geo-political translocation could cause trouble. So we’ve all been sworn to complete secrecy. No one mentions the ‘L’ word on location and we are not supposed to give out the locations where we’re shooting even to our close family and friends. Strictly no visitors and guests allowed.”

LINK

After making a film on legendary American pilot Amelia Earhart, Mira Nair is planning her next. And this time, her protagonist will be a Pakistani man who lets go of his life of fame in America after a failed love affair and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And the filmmaker has already chosen the one who will play that protagonist: Shahid Kapoor.

Nair’s film is based on Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was published in 2007 and was an instant bestseller. The lead role is thus quite a challenging yet prestigious offer for Shahid, who will be acting in an international film for the first time.

Apparently, Mira was keen on casting either Shahid or Ranbir Kapoor for the role of the protagonist, who is a bearded man called Changez in the novel. Our source said, “Between Ranbir and Shahid, Mira felt that Shahid had the intensity that the character required. While immensely appreciative of Ranbir’s talent, Mira thought that Shahid was better suited for this role.”

We wonder if Shahid’s intense double role in Kaminey won him his brownie points.

In Nair’s film as well as the novel by Mohsin, the story unfolds in the form of a dialogue between Changez and an American he meets at a cafe in Lahore. The protagonist gives voice to the various post-9/11 anxieties that emerged in the following months in America.

All in all, the project is an extremely promising one for Shahid. Though the actor remained unavailable for comment, a source confirmed, “Mira has already met Shahid. The actor loves the script. The necessary formalities are being worked out as both Mira and Shahid are extremely excited about the film and want to start working on it by early next year.”

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56 Responses to “Mira Nair’s Reluctant Fundamentalist adaptation (older post updated)”

  1. Mira Nair is becoming increasingly predictable with her choice of subjects. She’s become one of those classic ‘crossover’ filmmakers, selling mediocrity at both ends of the equation. She has done some interesting work of course but has more often been persuaded to game the system like a few others of her ilk (Deepa Mehta is another one). There has been a ‘demand’ for the post-Ray Indian auteur in this consumer economy of globalization. Someone like Adoor is far too serious and/or challenging for this kind of ‘lap it up at second/third tier festivals’ dynamic. A whole generation of Bengali directors following in Ray’s wake are also not well known outside Bengal. Even Ghatak has received nowhere close to the adulation that Ray did in the West though he is very admired by the critics who have seen him. So we are left with the likes of Mira Nair selling subcontinental exotica and banal commentaries on the ‘immigrant experience’ and so forth. This might sound unduly harsh. I have actually liked some of Nair’s work but a lot more in recent years strikes me as being cynically designed to evoke a certain critical/commercial response. Even Monsoon Wedding despite its many strengths had that very ‘Western-friendly’ twist with the pedophile! Nothing wrong with this but as someone reminded me wouldn’t it have been a better critique of the Indian domestic order in these matters to rather have the unmarried woman be a victim of ethnic prejudice? Or something along the lines of complexion and so on? Pedophilia always seems like the ‘unusual’ situation where the ones just referenced are quite the norm. Nair habit is increasingly to pick ‘cool’ novels that attract instant attention.

    Frankly the choice of Shahid Kapoor also seems completely wrong. She doesn’t even have the integrity to cast a more serious actor for this part. What did poor Irrfan Khan do?!

    • Yeah, this is an utterly predictable pattern for Mira where the personal diaspora film follows the epic Hollywood failure. So you had The Namesake follow Vanity Fair, and now you have this following Amelia. Here though I don’t even think Nair is right for the book. I’m not a fan of the novel at all but the material is made for a mind that has more to say politically than I think Nair is capable of, frankly. It’s also got something of a thriller framework that’s nowhere to be found in her work.

  2. agree with most of the above about mira nair..
    however, do give credit to her for standing up as some sort of a force as an indian “crossover” woman maker….
    Liked a few scenes of kama sutra (for obvious reasons) which has nothing to do with her directorial capabilities..
    Find namesake slightly over-rated although it had its moments..
    The scene where the son kalpen breaks down to see his fathers (rifans) shoes and other possessions after his death has been the highlight of her career for me.
    The choice of the novel “relucutant fundamentalist” again illustrates how she thinks this theme will sell.
    maybe im too harsh but havent found anythign really extraordinarily special in shahid or even ranbeer

  3. LMAO – she sees intensity in makeup (off screen) and butt pad wearing Shahid.

    I remember Vishal saying Shahid could be a better actor if he focused less on his looks.

  4. I don’t even see how this book would make a good movie. The book take place in 1 day where two guys are just talking over a meal and a walk to a hotel…there will be some flashbacks to the the leads life back in the US, but doesn’t seem like enough to make an engrossing movie.

    I agree, Irrfan would have been a better choice, and would have been a pretty good fit for the role.

  5. Shahid has more starpower than Irrfan Given a chance, he definitely can create some magic. Ultimately, he may be more like his father going for meanigful cinema than just boxoffice masala. Irrfan looks cynical most of the time just like Naseeruddin Shah. By the way Om Puri has more shades than Naseeruddin Shah.

  6. Our source said, “Between Ranbir and Shahid, Mira felt that Shahid had the intensity that the character required.” So the intensity was in comparison to Ranbir, and I think I have to agree with that. :)

    I read this book a few years ago, thinking it would give a good insight into the Pakistani reaction to 9/11, but found it quite disappointing in that respect. I can’t remember too many details now, but one thing I do remember is that the protagonist is somewhere abroad — Malaysia or the Philippines, I think — on 9/11, and, when he sees the attack, he cheers. Then there is a parenthetical remark by him, after narrating this reaction: Where did that come from? But the question is not explored any further, except for that throwaway remark, and that for me was the crucial question, which the book never did address.

  7. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    Come on guys, what would be more predictable: Irfaan Khan ina Mira Nair film after The Namesake or Sahid Kapoor? And Monsoon Wedding was brilliant. Period. Why should she succumb to the politically correct themes like ” ethnic prejudice” ? A sure recipe for boring cinema.

    • Utkal I agree about monsoon wedding being great.

      I have to disagree on not choosing an actor better suited for role to not be predictable. From what i remember of the book Irfan seems to be a better fit in my opinion. I’m not a huge shahid fan, i’ve only liked him in kaminey, so i could be biased and maybe he can do well in this role.

      Either way i don’t think book will make a good movie. If anything the author’s other book, moth smoke, would work much better as movie.

    • I actually don’t think Irfan would be a good choice for this role…Irfan 10-15 years ago, maybe, but he’s simply too old for the part.

      Agree with sarvanash in terms of this not being the best cinematic material. I haven’t read Moth Smoke and can’t say I’m in a rush to after having read this. But I’ll give it a shot.

      • I meant the Irrfan kind of actor more than anything else..

      • You may be right, i don’t actually remember what the age of the lead character was in the book. I just think irfan has more gravitas, and in a boring movie, he could prob hold my attention longer than others. If they’re looking for shahid’s age group then, i have no idea…i like ranbir in that age group but prob wouldn’t fit this….maybe abhay deol.

        • Well definitely – if the choice is between watching Irfaan and watching Shahid one would have to be nuts to choose the latter.

      • moth smoke is alright, nothing great…but it’s a better fit to be adapted for a movie. I remember reading a couple years back that rahul bose had the rights to it and was supposed to direct it.

  8. Shahid is the right choice than ranbir . shahid will rock surely in this movie . he will prove himself again after kaminey , in which he showed his versatility of acting . good luck 2 shahid . lets do it and also prove it dude.

  9. Why is everybody here hell bent on promoting Irfan Khan? Agreed he is a brilliant actor but why does Mira have to repeat him in every movie? And what’s wrong with casting Shahid anyway. He can be an excellent actor under a good director as proved in JWM and Kaminey. If we look at the young actors of bollywood today I would say he is a better bet than Ranbir Kapoor and Abhay Deol (who is very good in laidback kind of roles but I haven’t seen much intensity in him till now).

  10. Can’t wait for you, Shahid

    The actor is out of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist; the director was tired of waiting for him

    Sonal Chawla

    Posted On Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 02:08:05 AM

    We reported on September 29 that the mainstream actor Shahid Kapoor had chosen to act in Mira Nair’s adaptation of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The latest is Shahid is no more a part of this project.

    Shahid’s exit from the project stems from the fact that he kept Nair in the dark about the availability of his dates. Naturally Nair could not take these nakhras for too long.

    Shahid Kapoor

    Mira Nair

    Without informing Shahid, the director has already started auditioning with fresh faces. Some of the names who have auditioned for the part are Pratik Babbar, Ali Zafar and Rehan Khan.

    A source said, “Shahid is currently shooting for Mausam and wasn’t giving dates to Mira Nair for her film. He has a particular look for Mausam and would not shoot any other film. Mira’s film revolves around a Pakistani man and she needed Shahid to have a bearded look for the character. He kept dillydallying and did not revert with the dates.”

    The source adds, “Mira wants to go on floors early next year with her film, and she saw no sign of Shahid of doing the film. Thus her team started auditioning for relatively fresh faces, which will suit the role for a Pakistani guy.”

    We sent an email to Mira Nair, but did not receive any reply. While Shahid’s spokesperson said, “We would not want to comment on this.”

  11. Ranbir & Imran auditioned for Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist

    Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan Ranbir Kapoor quietly did a 2-hour audition for Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. This is the first time since Saawariya that Ranbir agreed to an audition. Mira has almost solved her casting dilemma over ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. She will no more cast a Bollywood actor in the main role, though she had a secret audition with Ranbir Kapoor. Reveals Mira for the first time, “I did a beautiful audition with Ranbir. Some years ago an audition for Bollywood stars was unheard of. But Ranbir did an excellent full-hearted audition with me. I’ve great love for the guy. He auditioned for two hours and I was deeply affected by his performance.” Alas, Ranbir couldn’t give the dates. “I needed him for three months from March. Sad that it didn’t work out, although Ranbir initiated the discussion. I think it was for the best. After Ranbir didn’t work out I decided to go for an authentic Pakistani. But I think I will work with Ranbir at some time. Now I’m going to choose between the two Pakistani actors I wanted from the start. One is from Lahore and the other from Karachi. In The Namesake too I went to Kal Penn and Tabu after Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee declined.” Mira also auditioned Imran Khan for ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, but was not too impressed. Says Mira diplomatically, “Imran is very cute. It’s going to be a Pakistani actor. The fact is, the protagonist Changez Khan in ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is Pakistani. He’s a unique character. He’s rooted to Pakistan but is a global citizen. It’s a very challenging role.” Mira has the choice between two Pakistani actors. “One is a Pakistani rock star; the other is a very famous film and television star-actor. But the Pakistani rock star is not Ali Zafar. I’m also looking at a British-trained Pakistani actor. Out of 300 actors we’ve zeroed in on these 3.” Now a decision has to be taken in two weeks. “But these are my three candidates,” declares the far-from-reluctant movie-maker. Though the film will be shot with a Pakistani actor in the lead, the shooting will be in Delhi, Mira’s home town. Explains Mira, “Spiritually and architecturally Delhi is akin to Lahore. But I’ll be shooting in Lahore for ten days as well. Then four weeks in New York and four days in Chile. We start shooting in March.”

  12. Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

    Satyam, you should update this post, the film now stars the reportedly very talented Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed and rather bewilderingly, a brunette Kate Hudson.

    I agree with most of what you write in this blog, but I think that your criticism of Mira Nair is unwarrantedly harsh. Pedophilia, and child sexual abuse in joint families in India is a very widespread problem (plenty of statistics to back me up here) and it receives almost no attention in the media, so it was nice to see it tackled in a film for once. I do not think it was done with an intention to exoticize the film.

    I will admit that films like Kamasutra, Kosher Vegetarian and The Namesake peddle a West-friendly version of The Indian experience but I think that Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay are 2 of the best Indian films made in the last few decades, and they are not gimmicky in any way. And it’s not like Mira Nair didn’t try to branch out, she made Vanity Fair and Amelie, but I think that she realised that she was not very good at making films that were not subcontinent-centric.

    And no offence meant, but I think this criticism of her choosing to adapt only cool novels is quite unreasonable. Both the books she is adapting are very well-written and well-known. Possibly choosing famous, ward-winning books makes it possible for her to get funding for subjects that might not otherwise be commercially viable, but it is not like she is choosing to adapt insubstantial or trashy books just because they would be commercially viable.

    In related news, Mira will direct a broadway musical of Monsoon Wedding (with songs composed by Vishal Baradwaj) after she finishes up with this film.

    • Don’t know anything about this actor. What happened with Shahid Kapoor? Is he not doing the film anymore?

      On Monsoon Wedding my problem with that angle was that it is not the most representative thing imaginable (even though I agree it’s not uncommon) and as opposed to focusing on something like the girl’s complexion perhaps or some such factor (which is far more determinative in matters of marriage) Nair went with the ‘reason’ that has more resonance with a Western audience.

      Similarly I think many of her other projects (even though I mind some less than others) are often compromised by the same considerations,

      but certainly one could do much worse than her!

      • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

        According to the articles posted on this thread, Shahid did not give Mira the dates to shoot for the film, which is very foolish of him.

        Riz Ahmed starred in the hilarious British film Four Lions, where he had great comic timing and a likeable screen presence, but not much more. He has, however, been getting rave reviews for Micheal Winterbottom’s Trishna.

        • this was also a film Ranbir rejected. On that note Abhishek rejected Kal Penn’s part in Namesake (though it would have been quite absurd to cast him in that ‘ABCD’ part!).

          • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

            AFAIK, Mira rejected Ranbir because he couldn’t commit to 3 months at a stretch. He was apparently quite keen on getting the role, and even flew into New York for an extensive audition, which he normally never does. Perhaps it was something similar with Shahid?

            http://entertainment.oneindia.mobi/bollywood/news/2010/77753.html

            I think that a film like this would be an excellent opportunity for any of the younger Bollywood stars. When acclaimed directors like Shimit Amin and Vishal Baradwaj have no problem working as editors, music composers or AD for Mira Nair, I think it’s a bit pompous of these two to refuse such a film.

            Not that I am saying that this film is definitely going to be amazing or that it will turn out to be an unqualified masterpiece. But working in a non-Bollywood set-up will be a good learning experience for these young stars. Even Amitabh Bachchan spoke about how doing a minor role in The Great Gatsby was such an eye-opening experience.

            I actually think that Abhishek would have been a good fit for Kal Penn’s role. :-) I am sure he could have acquired a convincing American accent and ABCD mannerisms if he worked on it, but perhaps he did not want to coo it all of that time to preparing for the role.

            He is quite convincing both as a westernised man and as a masala hero- Unlike say John and Akshay who look totally wrong to be playing slick business executives in London. Abhi cannot pull off unironic westernised coolth convincingly (like his Game character, for example) but he can do a more awkward westernised character just fine. I also think that he has the unpolished sex appeal needed to make the Gogol’s romantic entanglements convincing – something that Kal Penn
            was unfortunately lacking.

  13. Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

    First still from the movie:

    http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/bNqH7vvHpSC/Kate+Hudson+s+Dye+Job/jxtw9gekZ_F/Riz+Ahmed

    Information about the cast:

    http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/bNqH7vvHpSC/Kate+Hudson+s+Dye+Job/jxtw9gekZ_F/Riz+Ahmed

    Interestingly, Shimit Amin is her AD on the film

  14. Didn’t know Riz Ahmed was doing this. Don’t think he’s right for it, (Ranbir is actually the right sort of actor for this) but he’s quite fun and I liked him in “Four Lions”.

  15. iffrononfire Says:

    one of the most overhyped director which is evident from her body of where you harly see any innovation….

    btw said sometime back …some of the better hollywood work get inspiration from books , real events and real character ..one wonder why thats not the case with bollywood when india has those thing in aboundance especially when some of the so called regional cinema has been doing that quite effectively and here people are busy on rip off’s

  16. Alex adams Says:

    A bit surprised that shimit amin has agreed to assist and of something of his own
    A v good director shimit–liked his rocket Singh , abtak 56 besides chalk de

    As for Mira nair :she is one of those u can never count out –she keeps threatening that she will come up wit something gr8 & may do it one day

    Ps saw “kamasutra” sometime back –no comments

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      Kamasutra was so bad, what was Mira smoking when she made it? But you have seen her other films, right?

  17. Alex adams Says:

    As for kamasutra –Said “no comments”–didn’t exactly pan it…
    Am trying to behave lately lol

    Liked namesake a lot
    Irfan and kalpen were quite good
    Somehow find tabu some what over rated

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      Hahah OK…I really hated it, turned it off half way through.
      Have you watched Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay?

  18. Alex adams Says:

    Not really
    But yes –have heard that they are good

    Ps–”turned it off half way through”—the second half is not bad –try it out –mean the “movie” hoho

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      You should watch them, Salaam Bombay is a great film and Monsoon Wedding is a very good one. Definitely prefer both over The Namesake and all of Mira’s other films.

  19. Alex adams Says:

    Ok boss–may check em out …
    By the way: what’s her “cousin” oops deepa fire Mehta up2 nowadays

    Unrelated –have u seen bridesmaid –

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      Deepa Mehta is adapting Rushdie’s Midnights Children fornthe screen. Rushdie is also the scriptwriter for the film, which gives me some hope that the film will not be a terrible let down compared to the book.

      I saw Bridesmaids, I quite liked it, but I think it is a little overrated, it’s not as brilliant as people make it out to be. But Kristen Wiig is adorable and Melissa McCarthy was HILARIOUS. :-)

    • Alex: don’t think one can compare Deepa Mehta to Mira Nair; the latter is a far superior director, while Mehta, honestly I’ve started skipping her films — Fire was poorly made and preferred caricature (it’s the Pyar ka Punchnaama for men); Bollywood/Hollywood (it seemed to be made by someone who doesn’t watch, like, or “get” Bollywood; this, by the way, was a flaw in Rushdie’s otherwise fantastic “The Satanic Verses” as well).

  20. Alex adams Says:

    Hmmm
    Rushdie with mehta..

    Was forced to watch bridesmaid with zero expectations .
    Quite enjoyed it
    Kirsten Wiig was brilliant, I think

    Anyhow lets hit d bed :yo
    Gud nite

  21. Nair’s best movies for me are, in order, Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala and Monsoon Wedding. Everything else is pretty much in the same mostly passable league.

    I didn’t like the Hamid novel here and I don’t expect a very interesting movie especially given the director.

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      I do not understand why people on this blog are so critical of Mira Nair. Which Indian filmmaker could do a substantially better job of adapting the book? I do agree that it
      will be hard to make an engrossing movie out of the novel though.

      • Well for one thing it needn’t be an Indian or South Asian filmmaker given it’s more a “New York” novel. But leaving this aside I’d easily take someone like Sabiha Sumar over Mira Nair for this kind of material not least because I think the former is a more interesting political filmmaker than Nair ever was.

        Though I should reiterate the point that I don’t think anyone can make a particularly compelling film from this material. At least not without some serious changes.

        • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

          It is true that it’s more of a New York novel, I never thought of that :-) I am hoping there will be some serious changes though, sticking very closely to the format of the book would not make for compelling cinema at all.

    • I too didn’t much care for the book. Hamid’s first effort though a more uneven one was something I found more interesting.

      • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

        I really liked Moth Smoke, it could make for a very gripping movie. There was so much more going on, and the author seemed far more adept at handling the upper-class Lahore milieu than the New York post 9/11 milieu in the Reluctant Fundamentalist.

        I also think that Mumtaz in Moth Smoke was far more interesting and complex a female lead than Erica in RF, who was really more of a metaphor for America than an actual character. Especially considering how caricaturist the WASP-y girlfriend in The Namesake was, I’m worried for how Erica, who is a similar kind of woman, will be handled here. And really, why Kate Hudson of all people for the role? Bad casting choice!

    • The one underrated Mira Nair film I absolutely adore is the HBO movie starring Gena Rowlands and Uma Thurman, Hysterical Blindness. Apart from that, and the three you mention above, Nair has never really impressed me much. The less spoken about Deepa Mehta, the better!

  22. Alex adams Says:

    What’s Kate Hudson doin here
    And she looks different not only due to the hair color
    As for the “bad acting choice” u never know
    Sometimes the “bad choices” surprise

    • Ami (formerly 'Annoyed') Says:

      Kate Hudson looks terrible as a brunette, blonde hair suits her much better. I agree that she could surprise us, but there are so many better actors for the role. I think some one like Rachel McAdams would have been perfect.

  23. Alex adams Says:

    Liked this track

  24. Robbie Collin ‏@robbiereviews
    The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Riz Ahmed excellent in an otherwise desperately worthy, drainingly trite Bildungsroman. Not great. #Venezia69

    https://twitter.com/robbiereviews

  25. http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/venice-review-mira-nairs-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-kate-hudson-riz-ahmed-kiefer-sutherland-liev-schreiber-20120829

    Venice Review: Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ A Heavy-Handed Look At A Post 9/11 World

    by Oliver Lyttelton
    August 29, 2012

    Opening films at festivals are always worth approaching with a little caution. Normally given out-of-competition slots, it’s often a signal that the films have been selected to bring some starry names, and the attention that goes with them, to the red carpet, or to make some kind of mission statement, with the more prestigious pictures being saved up for the main competition. But generally speaking, Venice has had a good run in the last few years for their opening night film: “Atonement,” “Burn After Reading,” “Black Swan” and “The Ides Of March” all picked up varying degrees of praise, with Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Baaria” the only one of late that failed to get much of an international following.

    As such, this year’s opener, Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” is an intriguing prospect. The film, an adaptation of the best-selling and acclaimed novel by Mohsin Hamed, had been under the radars of most until its selection, and aside from Kate Hudson, is mostly lacking in the starry names that normally attract attention to a festival. Fans of Nair (whose superb “Monsoon Wedding” won the Golden Lion here in 2001) have been hoping for a return to form after her last film “Amelia,” disappointed. Was the film’s presence in such a prestigious slot a sign that she might have delivered? Unfortunately, despite a very fine central performance from ever-rising British actor Riz Ahmed (“Four Lions,” “Trishna”), not so much.

    The plot opens with the kidnapping of an American professor in Lahore, Pakistan, by an Islamic fundamentalist group, who demand a ransom and the release of prisoners in exchange for his freedom. His colleague, Changez Khan (Ahmed) is suspected of involvement with the group, and agrees to sit down with an American journalist (Liev Schreiber) to clear the air, but on the condition that he can tell his whole story. And so Changez begins to relate his journey from son of a poet in Lahore, to Princeton student, to high-flying financial analyst in New York, the chosen protégé of company higher-up Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), to lover of photographer Erica (Hudson), to incendiary professor and critic of American intervention back home in Lahore.

    It’s ambitious stuff, an attempt to cover the changes in the world – both in the U.S. and the Middle East – that have taken place in the last decade, and all the prejudice, suspicion, rage and tragedy that have come with it. And Nair certainly has an impressive scope to play with. In look and feel, the picture resembles a spy film, with globe-trotting locations including Istanbul and the Philippines, and slick handsome photography from her “Monsoon Wedding” collaborator Declan Quinn. Less successful is her attempt to bring a musical feel to proceedings with several songs (on top of a rather anonymous score from Michael Andrews) that, while not exactly song-and-dance numbers, comment directly on the action in a rather heavy-handed way.

    Ultimately, heavy-handed is the operative word. The brief moments of nuance – Changez admitting he smiled for a moment when watching the 9/11 attacks at the sheer audacity of the move – suggest the kind of film it might have been, but for the most part Nair is interested in telling, rather than showing, and she’s not telling you anything you didn’t know before. America killed more people in the war on terror than died on 9/11? Yep. Good Muslims in the U.S. were unfairly targeted after the attacks? Indeed they were. If Nair had made the film a decade ago, maybe this would have been more dramatic, but now much of the material feels tired, and the crass, clanging way in which she handles it doesn’t help.

    In fact, even the film’s main throughline – Changez’s transformation from capitalist, Westernized financier to controversial academic and campaigner – feels botched. His desire to find a Pakistani dream to match the American dream is one of the more interesting ideas in the film, but it’s never explored, with his return home feeling more like it comes from a broken heart and misgivings about his job than about wider concerns for Pakistan. It’s a shame, both because Nair has covered this kind of material more thoughtfully in the past (including her underrated “The Namesake”), but also because Ahmed is so good in the part. He’s impressed many times in the past, but the actor gets his best showcase to date here, subtly shifting his accent the further he moves from Pakistan, and proving charismatic, ambiguous and truthful in all the right ways.

    The rest of the cast don’t fare so well, although it’s not entirely their fault, and some of the better parts are smaller ones including “True Blood” star Nelsan Ellis as Changez’s best friend, Om Puri as his father, and Haluk Bilginer as a Turkish publisher. Schreiber feels disengaged and bored as the journalist, not least because the part is nebulously written. He does at least have more to do than Martin Donovan, who’s entirely wasted as a CIA officer. Kiefer Sutherland feels somewhat miscast as the mentor, but nowhere near as badly as Hudson is as the love interest. In all fairness, it’s a nightmare of a part, an artist (whose art is, as it turns out, is terrible) haunted by the recent death of her boyfriend, and seemingly unable to read basic human feelings and emotion. But Hudson doesn’t really help things, coming across more often than not as unintentionally funny.

    But there is stuff that works well in the film. When Nair is on home territory, examining the dynamics of Changez’s family in Lahore, it suddenly comes alive. But it’s too little, too late, and the lack of subtlety with which she’s tackled the rest of the material, William Wheeler’s lacklustre script and the uneven performances mean that the picture ultimately feels like a chore, even despite Ahmed’s excellent turn. [D+]

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