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Indian director Mira Nair set herself up for a monumental challenge when she decided she wanted to make a film out of the book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The story, written by Mohsin Hamid, follows a young Pakistani man who was once a businessman in America, but, after 9/11, moved back to Pakistan and may be involved with the kidnapping of an American professor.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist is probably the most difficult film I’ve ever made,” Nair tells The Hollywood Reporter.
VENICE REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Not only did it takes three years to adapt the novel — which was mainly in monologue form — into a script, but then Nair found a lot of resistance when seeking funding for the politically-themed film.
“Anything to do with Islam has always been a monologue so far, and I was committed to make it a dialogue between these two sides of the world that really don’t know each other,” she says.
Even after she cast the film — which includes several A-list actors such as Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland — she was struggling to get enough money to make the film.
“I remember one investor that we were speaking to for money, he offered us a pittance of two million dollars for this whole film,” she says. “He said, ‘You can shoot it in Rockaway Beach, darling, but if you have a Muslim at the heart of it, all you’re worth is two million dollars.’”
“He spoke the truth that many felt, perhaps that no one said,” she adds.
But with funding from the Doha Film Institute, the film finally got off the ground.
To star as the main character Changez, Nair casts British actor Riz Ahmed. Ahmed tells THR that he was a fan of the book long before he knew about the film, but that he had to do some convincing to get the part.
“A lot of the work I’ve done has been a bit more edgy and left field in the British tradition. I’m not Pakistani, I’m very much a Londoner and British born,” he says. “It was a real challenge kind of winning Mira around to it.”
VIDEO: ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ Trailer: a Pakistani in Post 9-11 America
Once he had gotten the part, Ahmed was challenged to portray his character in various locations around the world, and in different time periods. The film is framed by a conversation between Changez and an American journalist (Schreiber) about the kidnapped American, while Changez tells the journalist how he arrived at this point in his life. The film — shot for a relatively low budget of $15 million — was filmed in Lahore, Istanbul, New York City, Atlanta, and Delhi.
“This was an incredibly demanding film to make,” says Ahmed. “It was just really intense when you don’t have a lot of time and you’ve got to get a lot done.”
The film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2012 and will hit theaters in the U.S. on April 26, is a “gripping drama [that] painfully confronts the great cultural divide in people’s thinking created by the tragedy of 9/11,” according to THR’s review.
“You never see a film made by an Indian director about a Pakistani situation,” Nair tells THR. “You almost never see a film where the central character is a young Asian man who is supported around by very nuanced and layered roles by the likes of A-list Hollywood actors. The whole balance of power is different in this film.”
The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens in theaters in the U.S. on April 26.
Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford
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