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In 'Reluctant Fundamentalist,' a parallel to the Boston bombings

April 15, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Rescue personnel aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following explosions in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Stuart Cahill) ** Usable by LA and DC Only **
Rescue personnel aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston… (Stuart Cahill / AP )

An event like the Boston bombings prompts some witnesses to compare what they've seen to a movie, even if real-life terrorist attacks are far more urgent and tragic than anything Hollywood could come up with.

But there’s an aspect of one new film that may strike moviegoers as relevant in light of the Boston Marathon bombings near Copley Square. As the attacks were happening Monday, CBS News and other outlets reported, a Saudi man running through the crowd was wrestled down by a bystander, then taken in for questioning by Boston police. It may turn out to be a case of real culpability--or simply an unfortunate misunderstanding.

In an odd turn, Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” set to be released in Los Angeles next Friday, also concerns a terrorist incident of murky origin. In it, an American is taken hostage by a radical group overseas, and U.S. officials frustratedly try to pinpoint who’s behind it. In what seems like a prescient comment, Nair noted in an interview a little more than a week ago that a complex global world makes it ever-harder to know the roots of such attacks, even as a 24-hour-news cycle makes us want to know about them ever-faster.

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Most eerily, in one scene in the film, a man of Middle Eastern origin walking down a crowded American street is also picked up by police after a bystander believes he’s starting trouble. (It turns out he isn't.)

On Monday, the man who plays the wrongly apprehended suspect, “Reluctant” star Riz Ahmed, offered his thoughts on jumping to conclusions.

“Nothing allows us to dehumanize people like fear,” Ahmed, a London-raised Muslim of Pakistani extraction, told The Times. “When people think defensively they circle the wagons. The hardest thing to do is to stop yourself from curling up in a ball and instead make yourself more expansive."

As he spoke during a previously scheduled interview, Ahmed acknowledged the similarities between his movie and Monday’s events, and said that those looking to quickly point fingers — and there were a few on cable news Monday night — were listening to their lesser angels.

“It’s people acting out of ignorance or fear,” said the actor, who noted that has been stopped and even cuffed in airports in the U.S. and U.K. because of apparent racial profiling. “And the best reaction is to take a deep breath and have a conversation. Because to get angry is to perpetuate that ignorance.”

“Fundamentalist” offers a few twists and turns before it all shakes out, and the people who act suspiciously aren’t always  what they seem. It may turn out that the Saudi man has everything to do with the Boston bombing or nothing at all. But watching Nair’s film, one sees a sharp picture of how hard it can be to make determinations in cases like this, along with some people notably unwilling to make the effort.


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