This is a short impression, not a review, of two movies I saw recently.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is yet another movie that does not live up to the promise of its trailer. Damn! Why do I let a trailer convince me to waste 2 1/2 hours?
Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of a highly privileged and smart and handsome Pakistani in the United States, one who becomes radicalized due to a few bad experiences post-WTC, is simply not sympathetic enough, and does not deserve the freighted, over-2-hour-long movie that is used to tell its story: War and revenge result in injustice and the murder of innocents. And: Good people are sometimes mistaken for bad. And: We often misjudge people on the basis of appearances.
Heck, we know that, many of us have felt it in our lives, and we don’t need to see it through the eyes of a privileged Princeton graduate.
Even the somber music in the background, though poetry, is too heavy and persistent for this theme: Nice guy who loved America is . . . it turns out, still a nice guy, and still loves America, or at least earns the sympathetic understanding of the CIA operative who killed his friend. Whew, that’s a relief! If the white guy thinks we’re good, then maybe we really are good.
As for “Trishna,” it’s a bit more complex. Freida Pinto (who is from my tiny community of Mangalorean Catholics–there is an entry in Wikipedia that explains this one million strong community) is lovely, and renders a fine performance. But I find Riz Ahmed to be pompous, off-putting . . . well, a prick. His portrayal of an Indian settled in London but also operating in India–a smooth and rich operator–is guaranteed to be unsympathetic, but seems to be in tune with the Fourteen Commandments of Impressing the Whites (sorry to refer to my book, Impressing the Whites, which I have spent a great deal of time and life writing and publishing).
I go out of my way to watch movies with an Indian or South Asian setting or characters, and especially if the subject interests me–and, of course, both movies gave me some of that, but Trishna was somewhat more effective at it than The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Far more powerful than The Reluctant Fundamentalist, with extraordinary acting, was My Name is Khan. Even if it is a bit simplistic–we all have to try too hard to please the American god, especially if we have darker skins–it has very powerful moments. And it’s very picturesque. Stunning filmmaking.