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DOHA, Qatar — Fundamentalism, Al-Qaeda, the post-9/11 terror threat and the complex relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan were among the hot topics on the agenda after Mira Nair‘s The Reluctant Fundamentalist made its Middle Eastern debut to journalists from the region.
Partially funded by the Doha Film Institute and based on Mohsin Hamid‘s novel, the film tells the pre- and post-9/11 story of a young Pakistani man chasing corporate success on Wall Street in the era of globalization.
Riz Ahmed stars alongside Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland.
While none of the cast made it to Doha for the press conference, Nair was supported by Hamid and co-screenwriter Ami Boghani.
The film, set to open this year’s Doha Tribeca International Film Festival Saturday evening, unspooled to the international and local media, sparking a lively response.
Nair, responding to whether or not she is concerned about the potential reaction from American audiences to her film, was upbeat.
“The film has been really embraced on the festival circuit,” said Nair, citing its outing at the Mill Valley Film Festival in California where it won a prize and also the film’s slots earlier this year in first Toronto, then Venice and London movie jamborees.
Nair stressed that she and the screenplay writers Hamid, Boghani and William Wheeler had spent over a year making sure the script reflected a balanced and human portrayal of the world of terrorists, religion, capitalism and the American dream.
“People have been longing for this bridge and dialogue because so often in the US you only get one side of the story,” she said. “Portraits of America in this film are as varied as America itself; not at all a condemnation but a portrait of real life in America today.”
Nair pulled fewer punches than her movie’s balanced argument when it came to screenwriters, though.
The filmmaker, who has spent many years based out of New York, said she had taken Hamid’s novel and her vision to a number of “A list Hollywood writers” to adapt but had been frustrated and surprised to be confronted by “ignorance and arrogance” about Pakistan and beyond.
IFC will rollout the film in North America from April 26, 2013, Nair said, something she said pleases her because it gives the film a chance to be seen by a “wide audience.”
Hamid told the gathered press that all too often the media paints too basic a story about relationships between the US and other countries.
“Very often in the news today we get a very simple story,” he said. “America is good or America is bad, Pakistan is good or Pakistan is bad, India is good or India is bad. We [the filmmaking team] all feel that part of our job was to recomplicate what has been simplified and to show complexity in a story – in which one person is neither right nor wrong.”
Boghani said one of the biggest challenges and fun parts was turning Hamid’s novel, written as a monologue, into a script by having to flesh the other characters out from the single voice.
Nair’s inspiration for the film came from a visit to Pakistan in 2004 and her own experience as a child growing up as a Lahore in India before it was partitioned, she said.
“My trip to Pakistan inspired me because I got to experience the deep culture that I remembered as a child and I wanted to make a film about modern day Pakistan which is so different to the country you often read about in the news,” she said.
Doha Film Institute CEO Abdulaziz Al Khater, opening the buzzy presser, said Nair’s film led the charge for this year’s DTFF which aims to celebrate cultural diversity.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a remarkable piece of work that talks about cross cultures. We at DFI have been privileged to be part of this journey,” he said.
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