THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST
Production Goes on the Road
The Reluctant Fundamentalist started its ambitious production in Atlanta on September 17, 2011. "Atlanta is a pretty cool city," says Nair. "We found the reflective glass and concrete jungle of New York's financial district, authentic grunge bars to stand in for the East Village, and very Williamsburg-like sections for Erica's world." Filming began here, and then moved to New York for five days of exterior work.
The production then moved to Delhi for two months, working with many of Nair's crew from her 1988 debut film, Salaam Bombay! Nair and Pilcher had initially wanted to shoot in Lahore, which Nair describes as very similar to the Delhi of 50 years ago. "However, we were not able to get insurance to film with our US cast and crew in Pakistan, so we focused on recreating Lahore in Old Delhi," Pilcher explains. "We were able to hire a production company in Lahore who shot
second-unit images per detailed conversations with Mira and Declan, and that film was processed in Bangkok."
This arrangement allowed for all of the exterior scenes of Lahore to be filmed on location in the Pakistani city, including the exuberant scenes of the city's iconic canal. "Creating Lahore in Delhi was not very difficult," Nair explains. "We found this gem of a place called the Anglo-Arabic Islamic School right in the heart of Old Delhi which dates back to the 16th century."
Production Designer Michael Carlin adds, "The school occupies the site of an old mogul palace and houses a beautiful red sandstone mosque from the late mogul period. Here, in the heart of Old Delhi, we could build our street for the exterior teahouse and utilize the skyline of Old Delhi to stand in for Lahore. Even better, by lining up our set next to the school gates we could connect our 'back lot' set to the hectic junction of Ajmeri Gate and connect it to the 'real' world outside."
"We populated it with the detail of Lahore," says Nair, of the precision with which the Pakistani city was recreated, from the rickshaws to the costumes to the political posters. As it is a Muslim area of Delhi, many locals were employed as extras. "Spiritually it's the same as Lahore," says Nair of Delhi. "It's not like shooting Palestine in Morocco."
"Shooting in India, with the crowds and the dust and chaos, really helped," offers Schreiber. "It felt how it was supposed to feel."
There is a palpable air of unease in every scene -- a sense that anything can happen at any moment. "We tried to capture that tension in the way we conceived the shots," says Nair, who was working for the sixth time with cinematographer Declan Quinn, with whom she has collaborated with since 1995. "The camera is never on a tripod in this film. It is never static. It is always moving, either in Declan's skillful hands or suspended on a bungee-cord. The camera has the breath of life in it. Declan and I both tried to find a language, something that represented that unpredictability, that tightrope. The audience is never sure of where Changez will be at the end of the story." Nair explains, "The core for me is that this is a coming of age story of a young man who strives to find himself. It's a universal journey."
Istanbul, the site of Changez's personal and emotional reawakening, was also reconstituted in Delhi. All of the Turkish interiors were shot in a crumbling Delhi mansion in just one day with the great Turkish actor, Haluk Bilginer. His character, Nazmi Kemal's, cautionary tale about the janissaries serving their adopted empire, compels Changez to finally change the direction of his life.
Two days of filming Istanbul's exteriors wrapped the entire shoot. Pilcher notes, "In the novel, the pivotal scenes with the publisher are set in Chile. We chose to locate these scenes in Istanbul, which offered us greater proximity for production. Also, Istanbul is very significant in terms of being a place where east meets west." Straddling the Bosporus -- one of the world's busiest waterways -- in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul is a transcontinental city. Its commercial and historical center is situated in Europe, while one third of its population lives in Asia.
"Each city brought its own energy," says Riz Ahmed. "Atlanta and New York City were an all-American immersion for me and Changez, and just what was needed. It was structured and upbeat. Then the pressure cooker of Old Delhi fed into the thriller aspect of the scenes with Liev. The locations in Istanbul were more meditative; as were the scenes we shot there."
As on all of her films, the director started each day with a yoga session with the cast and crew, using teachers from around the world. "It was a merry band," she says of her globetrotting film family. "My subtitle was 'poor but free'!"
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