Popcornversations: The Redundant Fundamentalist

I walk inside an almost-empty auditorium on the second day of the film’s release and wonder what makes people reluctant to watch Mira Nair’s latest offering, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ based on Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller with the same title. Two ladies walk inside and sit next to me. One of them (the most talkative one, let’s christen her Ms. Active and the other as Ms. Passive) i.e. Ms. Active tells Ms. Passive that she has reluctantly decided to catch up this flick as a revenge on her boyfriend.

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Ms. Active: Look…he is still SMSing and saying sorry…

Ms. Passive: The film has started…Did you notice the word ‘Ilm’ i.e. knowledge in Urdu flashing first to become ‘Film’ in the opening titles?

Ms. Active: Hey Ms. Intelligent! Don’t read too much between the lines…by the way shall I reply to his SMS by writing that I am with a guy watching The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

Ms. Passive: Are you really watching it? Hey I never knew Shimit Amin has edited the film!

Ms. Active: Who’s he?

Ms. Passive: Arrey the guy who made Ab Tak Chappan and Chakh De! India….by the way I like the fact that the director has doffed her hats at the film, ‘Bol’ right in its opening scene…have you watched it?

Ms. Active: Nope…look he is getting despo and still SMSing…shall I…

Ms. Passive: Shhh…let me watch the film…this looks like the Pakistani film, Khuda Kay Liye..Have you watched it?

Ms. Active: Hey why do you keep asking me about never-heard-of films? He is SMSing  and asking who is the guy with me.

I looked at her, silently hoping that her boyfriend doesn’t bash me up, mistaking me for ‘that fictional guy’. Well, the film is actually reminiscent of the Pakistani film, ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor. While Khuda Kay Liye had the protagonist of a musician, this one has a B-School grad with stars in his eyes, climbing up the corporate ladder and leading us to the crucial point of the film where the twin towers are attacked.

Ms. Passive: Gosh! Can you believe that…this freaking guy is smiling while watching the 9/11 incident on television!

Ms. Active: These people are like that only…you know I used to date a guy called Faiz….

Ms. Passive: Shhh…Just look at him yaar he’s so cute! Reminds me of Rahul Bose in Split Wide Open….I hope he strips just the way Bose does in that film…

Ms. Active: But you know what that guy did to me…

Ms. Passive: Later yaar…you’re disturbing everyone.

I turned towards Ms. Active in support of Ms. Passive. Sure she was disturbing everyone, including me, who was trying to figure out what the problem of this dude, Changhez Khan played ably by Riz Ahmed. I mean, it must have been disturbing for someone to always be suspected as a terrorist and stripped (much to the delight of Ms. Passive) by the security during the immigration process, but why would such incidents turn someone into a fundamentalist?

Unlike Ms. Active, I don’t think ‘those people are like that only’. I have many Muslim friends who condemn 9/11 and yes, they don’t celebrate Pakistan’s victory during cricket matches either. I hoped for more insights as the movie proceeded, along with the non-stop chatter between the two ladies next to me.

Ms. Active: Hey now that he has stripped for you, can you read this SMS? What does he mean when he writes this?

Ms. Passive: Chalo let’s have popcorn and discuss. Gosh! The lovemaking scenes were so beautifully filmed! I really felt like…

The interval brought some relief, both from the film as well as the conversation – both heading nowhere. Seasoned actors like Om Puri and Shabana Azmi add a new layer to the film, reflecting Changhez Khan’s roots. The scene where Om Puri is trying to understand Changez’s profession and simplifies it through an analogy of a fruit seller is worth a mention and so is the silent gaze of Shabana Azmi. The other scene that leaves an impact on you is when Changhez Khan learns about his father’s poems being translated and published in Istanbul.

Imaad Shah is wasted as the ‘hero’s friend’. An actor of his caliber deserves much meatier role. Declan Quinn captures the essence of Pakistan’s traditions with equal ease as he portrays the corporate culture of the USA. Kate Hudson essays the role of Changez Khan’s girlfriend effortlessly and is convincing as a conceptual artist. Furthermore, the actors who really stand apart is Kiefer Sutherland as the boss of Changhez Khan and Liev Schreiber as the CIA agent in guise of a journalist.

The ladies were back and so were the volley of SMSes gleefully shared throughout the film, non-reluctantly.

Ms. Active: Now you know why I have started avoiding him…he is abusing!

Ms. Passive: How cheap! Thank God my honey-bunny isn’t like that!

Ms. Active: You know what…this film is intellectual self-pleasure….why don’t we sneak into the next auditorium playing Aurangzeb? Arjun Kapoor looks so cute…wish we had gone to watch that instead…

I could already find myself nodding in acquiescence. I had expected a lot from Mira Nair and have been an ardent admirer of her films right from Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Kamasutra, to The Namesake. This surely wasn’t going to be one of her best works but I can’t term it as worst either. Blame it on my high level of expectations from this film.

Ms. Passive: I don’t understand what this character does after becoming a fundamentalist?

Ms. Active: Forget it…look he just used the ‘F’ word in this SMS…how dare he…

Ms. Passive: I think you must break up with such an as***

Ms. Active: You just wait and watch what I am going to do…the film is about to end and I can already see what’s coming….let’s go now…

Ms. Passive: Arrey but I want to watch…

Ms. Passive was dragged outside the auditorium, literally. I could already see a storm brewing in the cup of SMS chats. I silently thanked them to ‘entertain’ me all through the film, which surely must have been titled as ‘The Redundant Fundamentalist’.

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