The Boy Done Good

Riz Ahmed excels in the leading role of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and would make the perfect Batman, says Momtaz Begum-Hossain.

Posted: 08.05.13

Nananananananana! Nananananananana!
Riz Ahmed enters the room referencing my Batman cardigan. I wear it every time I meet a film director (Mira Nair was scheduled in for later the same day) just in case they’re planning on creating a Bat Girl movie, and need a hand casting their leading lady. Hint. Hint.
On the off chance that happens, I can totally picture Riz as my Batman.

He is smart, slick and very hot. Hotter than I had realised. It only became apparent when I went to the press screening of his new movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Prior to this I knew he was a good actor and a rather creative musician, but his natural, focussed, sensitive portrayal of Chungez in the film adaptation of Moshin Hamid’s novel by Mira Nair is beyond pleasurable to watch. Every time he appears on the screen he is mesmerising.

Riz’s character Chungez is a Pakistani graduate who he lands a job as a Wall Street Business Analyst. As his career takes off with unexpected speed, he falls in love with a local photographer. Life is perfect. And then 9/11 happens.

The story flicks between present day Lahore where he now resides, and recollections of his past life in The States. As clichéd as it sounds, it was a role that was made for Riz. In fact he connected with the novel so much after reading it that he immediately phoned up the publishing house to enquire whether he could buy the rights but Mira had beaten him to it.

I ask him whether he would have tackled the film differently had his name been on the production credits. He answers: ‘The main thing about Mira is she is so collaborative. So the moment she offered me the role, she invited me to email my ideas. I was bombarding her with long essays; some of my ideas she took on board and some she didn’t because she had better ways of doing things.’

The Reluctant Fundamentalist has an A’list star cast including Kiefer Sutherland, a man who will always be part of my childhood memories after starring in Lost Boys; a film I secretly snuck downstairs to the living room to watch while my parents were in the land of nod. I’m pleased Riz was in just as much awe as I would have been working with him. He reveals: ‘I love Lost Boys, Stand By Me, Young Guns and 24. Kiefer is an icon, a hero and is lovely to work with. He knows his stuff inside out; the technical side of filming not just the creative side.’

Watching Riz in The Reluctant Fundamentalist made me feel like he knows his stuff ‘inside out’ too.
It is without a doubt, Riz’s best performance to date. I wondered if he felt the same? He graciously accepts the compliment but responds less enthusiastically: ‘I never go into a role feeling completely confident. I usually go home thinking, you didn’t nail it today; you have to do better tomorrow.’

He’s clearly very conscious of his work. But what about his choice of roles? After starring in this film, how many more movies will Riz be cast in with a theme about terrorism? Surely The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Four Lions, The Road To Guantanamo and the Channel 4 drama Britz are sufficient? I can’t help bring up the line from his self-penned cult rap track Post 9/11 Blues: ‘Post 9/11 I’ve been getting paid playing terrorists on telly and getting songs made.’

Riz is quick to defend it as fictitious. He reveals: ‘The one thing I haven’t made in my career is money! Not a day goes by when my dad doesn’t tell me I should become a banker!’ Aah. Glad to hear he has a proper desi background. And Riz in an office 9-5ing it? Nah. He’s too stylish; he’s wearing a 'tweedy' waistcoat at the interview for a start, so dapper that it puts Bruce Wayne’s sophisticated wardrobe to shame. Though, he did have to master a bit of the ‘tedious life’ for the role of Chungez. He admits: ‘I learnt how to be a Management Consultant which is interesting. I am rubbish at maths so that was cool and I improved my standard of Urdu. My reading is good now. I can read and appreciate poetry and understand really posh new bulletins.’

Bless him. That’s another sign he’s grown up. During the interview he also adds in various words of wisdom, referencing the fact that now he’s 30 he’s ‘more conscious of how he uses his time.’ He also hopes to direct one day and I admire the way he talks so openly about his pride for working on a mainstream film like The Reluctant Fundamentalist which although is ‘big fish’, was still made on a budget.

The film debuted at The Venice Film Festival last year and we’ll finally get the chance to watch it on UK screens from May 10th. Although I’ve seen it already, it’s one of those movies I could watch again, just to admire Riz. He’s a role model for all types of people and definitely one for Asians who wants to get into acting. He’s showed us that ordinary folk can have extraordinary achievements, and added to that he’s incredibly down-to-earth and very likeable.

Ok so I only spent 10 minutes with him and shared him with five other journalists but I’ve heard this report from several people that have met him. As long as he keeps his integrity he’ll end up with his name in the history books as one of the finest actors of this generation.

How’s this scenario for evidence? Riz wraps up the interview recalling an incident that occurred the day before. ‘I was in the street and a group of edgy looking lads were starring at me. They were shouting ‘mate, mate!’ Then they came up to me and said: ‘We respect Four Lions. Can we get a picture? That is progress.’ With Riz a part of the international film industry, I’m sure he’ll keep making it.
I just hope he knows how to ride a Batmobile…

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is released in UK cinemas May 10th 2013.

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