Opener brings helmer back to Lido 11 years after 9/11

When the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack hit the U.S., Mira Nair was on a plane to Toronto having won the Venice Golden Lion for “Monsoon Wedding” two days earlier.

Back on the Lido almost 11 years later with fest opener “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” a political thriller tackling complex moral and human issues springing from the attacks on the Twin Towers, the helmer known for bridging East and West recalls her shock.

India-born Nair said, “I live in Manhattan; so my first thoughts were for my family and friends. I wondered: is everyone safe?”

Not surprisingly, adapting Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller about a young Pakistani man pursuing the American dream on Wall Street who becomes disenchanted with the U.S. and somewhat sympathetic with Islamic terrorism, posed big challenges.

Narratively for “Fundamentalist,” the tough task was to tread a fine line as protag Changez Khan, played by Riz Ahmed, goes through personal changes prompted by the attacks, the politics and war that followed, and also by his money-manic Wall Street work environment.

“What I always wanted to do was make the audience walk a tightrope with Changez,” Nair said. “In the last decade the politics of the world have been driven so hard with spin, myopia, and ignorance to create absolute viewpoints. I wanted to humanize political questions through a living, breathing, complicated contradictory character. That’s the way to reach people way beyond politics.”

As for how to make the film resonate with worldwide auds, Nair said she specifically thought of her 20-year-old son “who is worldly and who is of many worlds.”

“I was thinking that I would like this film to reach the young, and not in a lowest common denominator way. I want young people to know and grapple with what it is to be a divided self, and to remember how it can be possible to get through that, and remember who you are,” she said.

From a production standpoint the challenge was to find investors for a film with Western stars that could be misconstrued as being in the Islamic terrorism camp.

“Equity investors were bailing out by the minute,” Nair said.

In the end the Doha Film Institute put up the pic’s entire $15 million budget.

The next challenge for producer Lydia Pilcher and sales company K5 is to land a U.S. sale on a pic that could play prominently in the East and in Europe.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more