When the twin towers fell, some ardently argued and sweeping forecasts were made about America’s future. One was that irony was dead. How, after this apocalypse, could irony reveal or explain American life and culture, critics asked. Mohsin Hamid’s best-selling book The Reluctant Fundamentalist which came came out six years after the apocalypse had somehow proved the culture critics right. It’s a book where two men are talking, each from two sharply demarcated worlds, and with contrary points of view. The Islam-versus-West dialogue went no further than where it had stood stagnant after 9/11. Hamid’s prose has a breezy pace, albeit without sharply observed details or complexity in characterization.

Mira Nair’s film version exactly replicates the book. Besides Declan Quinn’s cinematography which captures New York as well as Lahore robustly, in all their details, without fixing his gaze on the obvious, and some competent performances, the story itself has insufficient potential to be explored visually. How do you translate ideological bookkeeping on screen—especially, when the ideologies on display finally has no real guts or extremism,and tethers on an acceptable brand of liberal humanism.

Hamid has co-written the ‘screen story’, later developed into a screenplay by William Wheeler. Changhez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a professor in Lahore. The FBI sees him as an ally of violent fundamentalist forces because of his popularity. So when Bobby (Liev Schreiber), a journalist, meets him to find the ‘truth’, a dialogue between the two unfolds, the crux of which is: Are global capitalism and Islamist ideas of patriotism irreconcilable?

Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed in a scene from the movie

Ahmed is an extremely skilled actor and the character’s earnestness and seriousness reveal without any efforts showing. Earlier, he played the comic version of a similar character in the low-budget Four Lions, to which, perhaps, he brought more novelty and force.

Technically, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is accomplished. The editing by Shimit Amin is evident not in the film’s length, but more in the details of how the rich visuals and music complement each other.

This is a timeline that has inspired some important films. Take the most recent film, Kathryn Bigelow’s tight thriller, Zero Dark Thirty. It looks at the post 9/11-world through the American military prism scathingly. Most films have the American point of view. So despite the wishy-washy point of view, The Reluctant Fundamentalist earns posterity. Nair shows the discrimination that Changhez faces, and the hostility against South Asian Muslims so common at that time, without holding back. These scenes are a faithful visual record of what went into post-9/11 racial profiling in America. So Nair’s reputation as a culture-clash specialist—based not so much on her best work, but in her choice of subjects and the way the film-making world sees her today—is more firmly entrenched after this film.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist releases in theatres on Friday

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