'Post 9/11, US has been engaged in a monologue with the world. It's time we heard from the other side. That's what Reluctant... is about'
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Filmmaker Mira Nair speaks about her movie adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and relives her Salaam Bombay days. This session was moderated by Shubhra Gupta, film critic, The Indian Express
Shubhra Gupta: At the special screening of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, you said that it was as difficult for you to make this film as it was to make Salaam Bombay 25 years ago. Given that now you have built a body of work, what was so difficult about making this film?
The challenges were many and they took time. Firstly, to adapt a novel like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is essentially written as a monologue...One man, Changez, speaks to an American at a table in Lahore and the American does not say a word in the book, but in the movie, I wanted to know the American. You have to have a sense of who the other person is, so to create the American character, Liev Schreiber's character, from scratch took time. The writing of the adaption took three years.
I look at a book as a spring board to my imagination and to what I want to bring to it as a cinematic piece. My inspiration to make The Reluctant Fundamentalist came not from the book first but from a visit to Lahore. It was a deeply moving experience because my father grew up in Lahore and raised us in Orissa like mini Lahoris without us even knowing that. So to go to Pakistan for the first time and to see what was deeply familiar and yet unfamiliar was extraordinary. I had never encountered a place like that. It was (a place of) incredible refined artistic and cultural expression which I did not know of. So that was the inspiration to make a modern tale on Pakistan. Nineteen months after that, I read Mohsin's novel in manuscript and I felt immediately that this could be the spring board for me to make the modern tale that I wanted. Post 9/11, America has been engaged in a conversation with the world that is, I think, essentially a monologue, and it's about time we hear from the other side. In the novel, there is this young man from Pakistan who loves America, who goes there, seeks his fortune, goes to Princeton, ascends Wall Street, falls in love, believes he has the American dream and then after 9/11, feels a series of slights and then greater, deeper humiliation and then a final betrayal that gets him to come back to Pakistan. But in the film, I wanted to know what he did when he returned to Pakistan. I wanted the third act of the movie to reflect also on the decade of politics that we have seen and suffered in the last 10 years. All that took a fair amount of time. I had the cast, I had the script and I had investors who were keen on this from the beginning but somehow, as it became more and more real, investors got nervous and dropped out. We had a global appetite. It's how you understand fundamentalism, which is a huge thing, so investors came and went and finally, we just tightened our belts and made it digitally. We shot most of Lahore in Delhi and also in Lahore but we did the post production in India. We saved money in any way we could, but we didn't compromise the scope of the film. So I am very pleased to have a film that I can totally stand by. So, that's what took five years.