Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist -- Mira Nair makes a brave attempt

When she made Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake into a movie with the same title, Mira Nair did not seem to have do much except to keep the camera rolling and let the book unfold itself. But some of the frames in that film were excellent though Tabu's role was awkward at moments and there were other awkward occasions as well. But what held the movie was the overwhelming sadness of the book that Mira Nair was able to infuse her frames with. Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is not a movie-maker's book. So it was brave of Mira Nair to have taken up the task of turning the book into a movie. The film she makes is absolutely different from that of the book. She makes it a plain emotional movie, with a melodramatic, Hollywood message that good should prevail over evil. In these times of vicious civilisational hatreds, this bit of preachiness is absolutely ok. The message of conciliation might be unconvincing, even unrealistic, but it is something that has to be made and she makes unabashedly like a bad good liberal. It is interesting that the author Mohsin Hamid seems to have seen the cinematic logic and went along with Mira Nair to make the necessary changes in the novel's film adaptation. The irony, wit, the burlesque bordering on risque, humour, the self-deprecatory tone, and the close echo in its narrator's tone of Albert Camus'narrator in his novella, The Fall, were the charm of the book. What it loses in its sparkle of intelligence in the book, it brings out rather vividly the humiliation of being a Muslim in the United States after 9/11, and the racism, hatred and irrational viciousness of the liberal American state is portrayed with unflinching rigour. Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist reminds you inevitably of Pakistan production Khuda Ke Liye, where the post-9/11 Muslim dilemma is brought out much more effectively and more beautifully than in Nair's film of Hamid's novel. In Khuda Ke Liye, the film portrays jihadism from the inside and it offers a liberal solution through the character portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah, but the harm inflicted by the US on an innocent America-loving Muslim is rather striking. A different kind of film made in India and which tackles the challenge of jihadism in the Indian context is Subhas Ghai's Black & White, starring Anil Kapoor and Shefali Rana. The liberal voice in Ghai's film is loud and clear. The liberal voice in Nair's film is severely gentle, muted. What Hamid's novel and Nair's film fail to tackle with a certain honesty is jihadism itself even in the face of overwhelming American tyranny. Khuda Ke Liye tries to tackle it but not fully.

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