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For filmmaker Mira Nair, her first visit to Lahore in 2004 was overwhelming.
For filmmaker Mira Nair, her first visit to Lahore in 2004 was overwhelming. Even though she spent her childhood and teenage years in Orissa, where her father Amrit Nair, a civil servant was posted, there was a lingering sense of nostalgia in the household, for the life her father had left behind in Lahore in the grim aftermath of the Partition. New works by Pakistani poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz were read and discussed during languid afternoons, even though she was named Mirabai after the Vaishnavite singer from Rajasthan. The visit to the country gave her a sense of deja vu and also, the inspiration to make a movie on modern-day Pakistan. Six months later, when she came across the manuscript of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid's second novel set in the 9/11 aftermath, Nair knew she had found the perfect story. "In that book, I saw not just a portrait of modern-day Pakistan but a dialogue with America. These are two worlds I know intimately and I strongly feel that a conversation must exist between them," says Nair, when we meet her at the recently-concluded 43rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, where the movie closed the festival.
As a filmmaker, Nair enjoys a unique advantage: familiarity with many worlds. If Nair's father gave her a glimpse into a lost lifestyle, she soaked in her India experiences before moving to the US to study and later, work. Her marriage to Mahmood Mamdani, director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, gave her a window into another Third World nation in east Africa, her home for more than two decades. The Reluctant Fundamentalist makes optimal use of this cosmopolitanism. The narrative zips between the US and Pakistan, as it follows the fortune of its protagonist Changez Khan, a highly-successful, albeit manipulative, finance analyst with a degree from Princeton University. Khan returns home after 10 years in the US, as xenophobic paranoia sweeps America after the twin tower attacks, and takes up a teaching job at a university in Lahore. Soon, he has an audience in his young students, who come to him for opinion on several issues. Nair says it's been "the most difficult movie" she has made. "It has taken about five years of my life. Out of these, three years were spent working on the screenplay alone. The book is a monologue, but the screen adaptation needed to be in the form of a dialogue," says Nair, 55.