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Mira Nair's challenge in Toronto

By Arthur J Pais
August 31, 2012 13:05 IST
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Riz Ahmed, who was brilliant as a rich misogynist in the little seen Trishna, is getting more praise for his star-making work in the political thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directed by Mira Nair.

The 29-year-old British actor plays a Pakistani called Changez who becomes a high flier on Wall Street prior to 9/11, before being radicalised. The film is based on Mohsin Hamid's popular and critically acclaimed novel which was a nominee for the Booker four years ago.

The film which opened to good-to-mixed reviews at Venice, where Nair made a big splash when she won the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion, for Monsoon Wedding in 2001, is among the more eagerly awaited films at the 36th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The festival runs September 6 to 16.

The movie, unlike most films by Nair, does not have a distributor in many of the lucrative territories such as the United States. But if it gets a warmer welcome at TIFF than at Venice, things could look up for it. Monsoon Wedding was a huge hit at TIFF where Nair's other film, The Namesake, was also well received. Both films went on to be very successful at the box office.

'TIFF isn't known for its curatorial discretion as much as its big-tent approach to cinema,' Newsday wrote recently. It could be referring to the mix of big Hollywood films such as the thriller Looper as well as smaller films such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist and a slate of very small and independent films from all over the world including Mumbai. 'But there's certainly something for everyone,' the newspaper added.

Nair, whose films have unfolded in America, England, and India, said in Venice said she likes to make films that straddle different worlds.

'I believe that I have actually been put on this earth to tell stories of people like me, who live between worlds,' she said at a news conference. 'I am a child of modern India, but I was raised by essentially a father who came from Lahore, before it was partitioned and became part of Pakistan.'

Time magazine welcomed Nair's film as a 'tense, thoughtful and truly international' film that 'raises questions meant to test America's conscience'.

Riz Ahmed stood out in 'a star-making role', it added. Screen International, a trade publication also declared that Ahmed offers 'a finely nuanced performance that carries the film.' But the review complained of the film's pacing.

Such thoughts were echoed by an older trade publication, Variety, which wrote that the film 'saddles itself with a labourious narrative structure and half-baked thriller elements.'

The Hollywood Reporter found the movie engaging and lively, calling it 'a serious-minded film whose politics demand soul-searching and attention.'

The film also features Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson. Hudson plays Changez's girlfriend and Kiefer Sutherland is his former Wall Street mentor in New York City flashbacks.

The biggest test for the film will be TIFF where many decent films get less than the notice they deserve because of the number of films -- more than 200 feature films -- crammed into just 10 days.

If a film catches the attention of major newspapers such as The Globe and the Mail and Toronto Star, it often results in long lines at the public screening, and often starts an awards buzz.

But Nair is at peace with herself, believing that she has created a film that will question assumptions about Pakistan.

She has said making the film gave her an opportunity to explore Lahore, which she had first visited only six years ago.

'Modern Pakistan is nothing what you read about in the papers,' she declared, 'which is full of corruption, beheading and terrorism and so on.'

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Arthur J Pais in New York