The most poignant message in Mina Nair’s film adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid, is that there are two sides to every story. It’s easy to become consumed by our own experiences, understanding and opinion of events but there’s always an opposing experience/ understanding/ opinion.
The film is almost unrecognisable from my memory of the novel but the sentiment is the same. Changez, a young Pakstani man, moves to America for university with ‘American Dream’ aspirations. He’s headhunted by a prestigious consultancy firm and quickly works his way up to partner.
When Changez meets the CEO’s niece and they begin to develop a relationship (albeit a tumultuous one), his dream looks almost complete. And then the 9/11 attacks take place. Suddenly Changez finds himself the victim of racist and xenophic attacks from Americans.
The American Dream loses its magic and he begins to reassess his life, eventually deciding to leave his Wall Street job and return to Pakistan to be a professor of finance.
The story is told by Changez from a café in Lahore.
Nair manages to evoke the strong sense of universal unease that followed the 9/11 attacks. But from the perspective of a Muslim Pakistani, which is not – I imagine – where many non-Muslim non-Pakistanis have necessarily placed themselves when considering the impact of these attacks on people’s lives (immediately after, and even now).
For the moral lesson, the lead actor – Riz Ahmed – and the wonderful scenes set in Pakistan, Nair has done a great job. If I’d never read the novel, I’d have probably have enjoyed it even more.
She was brave to take someone else’s novel and completely re-write it but I loved the original novel so it also felt a bit like sacrilege. Still, however, well worth going to see.