August 30, 2012

As Pakistan took a bow at the opening night of the 69th Venice International Film Festival on August 29, courtesy author Mohsin Hamid’s award winning novel, now a film, which Variety magazine calls “the hot-button 9/11 themed thriller,” and which director Mira Nair in an exclusive interview to Newsline calls a “political thriller,” it is exciting to see that in less than 24-hours the film has generated a huge buzz on mainstream and social media.
Just a few weeks before the movie’s world premiere at Venice, I spoke to Nair on the phone in Kampala, Uganda, which besides New York and New Delhi, is one of the cities where the director has a home. Mira was excited about her New York and Lahore-based thriller. She spoke in detail of her love for Lahore, Pakistani music and her desire to portray the rich, cultural heritage of Pakistan and that she saw Hamid’s novel as “a springboard for the dialogue between the subcontinent and America.” Venice was where Nair’s rich adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist first unveiled itself with the most of the cast in attendance: Riz Ahmed as Changez, the film/book’s protagonist, Kate Hudson as Erica, Liev Schreiber as Bobby, Kiefer Sutherland as Jim. The film also features Pakistani singer and actor, Meesha Shafi, and veteran Indian actors, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), (September 6 -16, 2012), features next on The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s calendar of appearances. Toronto will be a special place for Nair to have her North American premiere which unlike Cannes and Venice, is the largest publicly attended festival in the world, with the most film-savvy audiences I have ever seen. In 2007, I was a coordinator assisting the South Asian programmer at TIFF and witnessed how Bollywood arrived at TIFF at huge gala screenings with the pomp and flair for which it is famous; how independent cinema from South Asia, mainly India, continues to capture the hearts of open-minded and empathetic audiences; and how Toronto’s largest visible minority — the South Asian one — laps up each and every story from their corner of the world.
In 2007, Pakistani director, Sabiha Sumar brought her short documentary Dinner with the President: A Nation’s Journey to TIFF. It was the only film at the festival from Pakistan, with Pakistani-themed content. People I met, including my colleagues, wanted more from Pakistan, to learn more about this country that has been zeroed in on the world’s radar this whole decade, through a less stereotypical medium — film.
In 2006, Mira Nair brought the adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake, to Toronto. Audiences wept and laughed as Nair painted the story of a Bengali couple who cross oceans to live together in distant America. In my conversation with Nair, she said this story was about “the immigrant condition, perhaps, and generational conflict — much more in the family zone.”
Six years later, Nair describes her new film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist as “a political thriller; it’s really about what is going on in the world today, this wall, this schism between East and West,” she tells me in her interview with Newsline. Venice has already seen it, Toronto has a lot to look forward to and Pakistan awaits it in the near future.
Read more about The Reluctant Fundamentalist in our September, 2012 issue to learn of what novelist Mohsin Hamid and director Mira Nair have to say about their experience of making the film.

The writer is a former assistant editor at Newsline