Narratives that move back and forth could sometimes get contrived, especially when there is a narrator involved, because the context that forces the narrator to open up his story may not always be conducive to dwell on the less related aspects of his life, like the specifics of his romance, for example.
Luckily for The Reluctant Fundamentalist (based on the novel by Mohsin Hamid), director Mira Nair and editor Shimit Amin, keep it pretty tight and relevant, never compromising on the tense mood that the flashbacks are set against. Even if the lady love involved here is Kate Hudson.
Tautly rewritten for the screen and never shy of employing Urdu where the narrative demands, this is a film that adapts the core premise of the novel and takes certain artistic liberties to make sure that all sub plots — including his romance with the artist Erica (she was a writer in the book) and his job at Underwood Samson (the final assignment takes him to Chile in the book but closer home to Istanbul here) — are given a political context that justifies who he ultimately becomes.
It’s a film that rises above the clichés of the 9/11-themed films about discrimination. If he’s strip-searched at the airport once, he’s also promoted as an Associate at Underwood Samson. If he keeps a beard to show his solidarity with his people, he also makes it a point to tell investigating authorities when detained that he loves the U.S. Mira Nair, however, wants us to note what is not being said, be it the hesitation before he says he loves the U.S. or the feeling of belonging he gets when a fellow Pakistani offers to pay for his takeaway when he’s told they don’t take plastic.
Riz Ahmed owns Changez, Kate Hudson shines in her brief role and Kiefer Sutherland’s electric presence as his boss is enough for us to both respect and fear him. We are put into the American journalist Bobby’s shoes (Liev Schreiber is terrific and his performance brilliantly understated) as we listen to Changez’s story pretending to have “no preconceived notions”. More so in climax when he watches Changez send a text... Instantly, our biases come out. Because we have just heard the story from his point of view. And if we went through everything he did and had a choice to pick a side, which one would we pick?
Changez’s journey of discovery and realisation from the reductionist evaluations of Underwood Samson to the equally reductionist judgements of Islamic fundamentalists is worth every bit of its screen time and your mind space, despite its rather dramatic ending (again, a departure from the novel).
Go for it, no reason to be reluctant.