Expect to hear a lot about The Reluctant Fundamentalist this autumn. The film, which opened the recent Venice International Film Festival and has a closing screening at the Toronto International Film Festival tonight, will also open the Doha Tribeca Film Festival on November 17. Based on a novel by the Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells the story of a young man named Changez who becomes disillusioned with the so-called American dream post-September 11 and returns to Lahore to become a university professor. It also unfolds over the course of one evening, with the main character Changez telling his story to a silent American - who in the film becomes a journalist played by Liev Schreiber. In an interview in Venice, the director Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, The Namesake) and the lead actors Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson and Schreiber, spoke about their involvement in a project that was more difficult than most to translate on to a big screen.
Mira Nair: I was invited to Pakistan in 2006 to talk about my films. It was really moving to see the culture and music there, because as a child of modern India, you are never really allowed to go there. It is so different from the world you read about. Pakistan has a beautiful culture and refinement and I used to call it the Venice of the East. I wanted to immediately make a contemporary tale about Pakistan and about six months later I received the manuscript, before the book was published, of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Riz Ahmed (Changez): I think Mohsin Ahmed is one of the leading lights of our times; his two books are great, and I can't wait to read the next one, which is out soon.
Nair: Any filmmaker looks at a book as a springboard to tell a story about a world that they want to inhabit, so I amplified the book by showing the culture of both Pakistan and America in equal ways and what was really appealing to me was that in its heart, it was a dialogue with America.
Liev Schreiber (Bobby): I realised that Bobby was the only character in the story that had the potential to represent some form of consciousness, so I asked Mira if I could play that character and how we could expand it. My suggestions were to make him a journalist and talk about how his politics changed after 9/11 and so he was someone working off emotion rather than compassion.
Nair: If you have read the book, it's simply Changez telling the story to a silent American, so we had to create the role of Bobby and I wanted to create it with as much pain and enigma as we have with Changez. In the book, two men meet at a cafe and there is no reason for them meeting. But in the film you have to have a reason for them to meet and explain why Changez is telling the story.
Ahmed: I think Changez's journey is trying to negotiate and dodge and remould the bigger ideas that he is facing, namely American and Pakistani patriotism, capitalism and Islamism. These are things that I don't think drive him, they are like obstacles to push him and pull him. But if he goes more one way than another, it's not because he feels more patriotic or capitalistic or Islamist - it's because he loves Erica [his love interest, played by Kate Hudson] or his mum more at that moment.
Nair: I think the love between Erica and Changez is genuine. Changez opens that door of love in her that she thought was closed. It's not about the fascinationand exotica of "the other" at all, it's about two people who want to be together. What's interesting about Erica, and I've seen this with a lot of artists who are in the world of autobiographical art, where your own life is your art, is that she thinks including Changez is a love letter, but it's something that can be so offensive to another person.
Kate Hudson (Erica): I don't think Erica had ever been in a situation where she had to suffer from the consequences of her actions. Coming from her privileged background, I think art was her way of rebelling and made her feel good until she realised that what she thinks was her expression of love ends up being really painfully stabbing someone she cares about, which is really when she realises that she is not ready for intimacy.
Ahmed: I kind of feel like 9/11 was a marker on Changez's journey. It's the thing that tips his circumstances over the edge, shifts things up a gear. I feel like his path and conflicts would have played out regardless. I think there was a fundamental tension in Changez's desire to remake his identity and shed all the labels that he is born with by his longing for home. He is doing all this for his family and at the same time he can't escape it. I think there is a fundamental tension there that he could never resolve unless he tries to engage on this path.
Nair: I wanted the clothing of a thriller because there is an interesting mind game of "is he or is he not a terrorist". The idea of another man's life hanging in the balance, the clock ticking and wanting to know if it can be saved or not, gave us the skeleton of the plot. The thriller element was written in the book, but in a very understated and mysterious way. For the movie, you have to clothe this and add flesh to the idea.