“If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the Iron Chains” – ll cool J/ Brad Paisley “Accidental racist”
Nair’s Reluctant Fundamentalist is very easy to make fun of (It does for Geopolitics what Kama sutra did for sex…..etc) but IMO the lesson that needs learning for every expatriate Indian not watching this is no less important ,if probably likely lost as a whistle in the southern California wind.
You take a stand and stick with it. It’s gotta be an honest stand and has got to be well thought out and clearly spelt out. You gotta tell the Big bully where to get off, and what’s “ out of bounds”. You do it emotionally and show real consequences or else you end up with …..The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The filming of the Mohsin Hamid novel has had a precarious road to production and took a couple of years, even if Mira Nair is one of India’s best known expat filmmakers. (I blame the Euro crisis ).
I have decided that, instead of reviewing the ambitious sweep of intentions of the film, about a Pakistani alpha male whose relationship with wall street sours into mistrust, I will instead, list out Ms Nair’s six bourgeois compromises that add up into cinema killing mediocrity. I blame the Hollywood studio system for this .
The Six Compromises of Mira Nair:
Compromise 1 Its NOT about Terrorism. (because that would disturb the nice Lahore housewife/matron watching HBO) Sure, Muslims from Lahore are all milk and human kindness, even if they are Muslim fundamentalists that are angrily agitating about how much they hate America and Americans , but when you want to make a movie about a dude meeting a shadowy Pakistani dude in a seedy Lahore cafe full of glowering extremist types, you do NOT go all fuzzy and build back story for the chaiwallah. You make everybody menacing until you can let the (fuzzy teddy bear) details emerge.
Compromise 2: You can’t make an angry leftist novel into a sufi message of love. The reluctant fundamentalist references the ideological war declared by wall street on erstwhile leftism and its global assets, as motivation for the protagonist,in the book, Chengez, walking away from his highly paid consulting position. Mira Nair observed that she had replaced Neruda’s Chile in the novel with a Sufi “cultured” Istanbul. Listen I understand bibi back home would rather visit the tasselated ex-harems of Istanbul , and not Pinochet (even today) bullet riddled Santiago, but did Mira realize she was ripping out the innards of a living novel and preserving it in historical formaldehyde?
Compromise 3: Making it all about the wedding. We get it ok? Pakistanis get married and those weddings are full of culture and food. But revisiting your greatest hits in the middle of a terrorist drama may feel to YOU , Ms Nair, like you want good things to happen to young Pakistani men, but to US, it feels like a cop out on the scale of a dadimaa’s response to everything is to feed everyone.
Compromise 4:I’m not going to “Kate Hudson is fat and there’s no chemistry”….but Kate Hudson is fat and the sex scenes are embarrassing. I have seen homemade porn that looked better. Mira there’s more things guys know to do than merely clutch (an overweight) white girl around her stomach and breathe on her neck. What’s the compromise here? I think she’s talking to Pakistani women in all these sex scenes, without being clear that she is doing so. It feels vaguely like the “reluctant fundamentalist” has no autonomy, needing to go from one Freudian Madonna to another. If THAT is why Czengez is not a terrorist (cuz he’s such a mama’s boy! ) it’s a stretch. In any case , the man could easily have been a secure lover and still have a sense of vulnerability. James bond has been pedaling that for AGES and still gets away with it.
Compromise 5: Not having a coherent message. The film does not trace a historical timeline among its chosen cities(New York, Lahore and Istanbul). It does not want to define the Americans as anything mre than a reactionary overwhelming force for retribution in Pakistan, It does not want to hold up a mirror to Pakistani bourgeois, in creating the vacuum that allowed everyone to become fundamentalists, and it makes well meaning noises about how “good people are good” and “others shouldn’t misunderstand them” as terrorists. News for you Mira, THE MIDDLE CLASS CAN HANDLE EXTREMISM AND VIOLENCE IN FILM. They have to negotiate bollywood’s stridency, Lollywood’s ham-handed messaging and Hollywood’s crafty propaganda. As filmmaker you have a choice to make your analysis historical, and intellectual, or to entertain with a thriller…or you must be honest to the novel’s intentions. You can’t fall between the cracks in ALL these respects.
Compromise 6: It’s the Geopolitics, Stupid! Lady you’re a filmmaker well respected in Europe, and who has made a few highly distributed films inside the Hollywood studio system, you can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that even MAKING the film is NOT about geopolitics If you do, you have ALREADY given Constantinople away to the Christian hoards. Of course Samuel Huntington exists (specially in the context of the current crusades) Of course a “film about a Pakistani protagonist “ will not get financing in Europe or the US because it doesn’t fit the propaganda goals of the relevant commercial interests. Noam Chomsky’s filters are keeping you out. Just because you pretended this was not so, your job is no easier. So …I don’t know maybe you should have grown a pair and SPOKEN about what we don’t discuss in drawing rooms. Fundamentalism and who , precisely is responsible for it.
Mira Nair hasn’t lost it. The people all round (studios, financiers, Bollywood, Hollywood, audience….) seem to think they know better. The perils of crowd sourcing your taste (as Mira seems to have done here, ) is that you allow for confusion and diffusion of your already diffuse ideas, and it reflects in the vision of the reluctant filmmaker.