The film premiered as the opening film for the 69th Venice International Film Festival, and at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival. The film had a limited release in the United States, India, and in Europe and North America. In Pakistan, the film was released in Urdu with a changed title as Changez on 24 May 2013. In Africa, the film premiered in Kampala, Uganda, on 24 August 2013. The film also screened at the 31st Munich International Film festival. Upon its release, the film received mixed reviews from critics. The film received several awards, most of them honouring the film's efforts to address tolerance and xenophobia.
In 2011, Anse Rainier (Gary Richardson), an American professor at Lahore University, is kidnapped soon after he leaves a cinema. A ransom video is sent to the US embassy, demanding the release of 690 detainees from what is described as a Muslim concentration camp in Kot Lakhpat and €700,000 for the children of Waziristan. Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist and undercover CIA informant in Pakistan, arranges to interview a colleague of Rainer, Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), whom he suspects is involved in the kidnapping.
Changez starts off the interview, held in a café, by declaring his admiration for the American equal playing field in economic advancement. He belongs to a class of people who, while genteel and educated, increasingly find themselves left out of economic progress. His father is an elderly poet and man of letters (played by Om Puri), who is respected by all who know him. Nevertheless, money has always been a serious problem in the family and Changez was only able to attend college when he got a scholarship to Princeton University. After graduation, he earned a job position at a top Wall Street valuation firm, Underwood Samson. Meanwhile, he met a young American photographer, Erica (Kate Hudson), and a relationship developed.
The World Trade Center attacks take place while Changez is in Manila on business. When he returns to the USA, he is strip-searched at the airport in New York. Later on, he is thoroughly interrogated by federal agents, after being mistakenly arrested in the street as he left the Underwood Samson building. His attitude toward the USA seems to change, as does his relationship with Erica, who has yet to come to terms with the loss of her former boyfriend, feeling responsible for his death. Changez eventually breaks up with her, after she invites him to the opening of her art show: she had used intimate details of their relationship without his knowledge, which he takes as a betrayal.
While valuating a publishing house in Istanbul, Changez discovered that the otherwise worthless firm had translated some of his father's work into Turkish and published them. He realised that the company had preserved culture, something that cannot be measured merely in terms of money. His boss at Underwood Samson, Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), does not see it that way, viewing Changez's attitude as unprofessional. Feeling an ever-increasing conflict between his desire of success and his sense of loyalty, between the way he saw himself and the way he was now treated, Changez finally resigns from Underwood Samson.
During his interview with Lincoln, Changez says that at one point he was approached by a terrorist cell and asked to become a mujahid, and he was tempted to accept, feeling deeply angered and disillusioned by "the arrogance, the blindness, the hypocrisy" of the USA, but he finally refused when he was told about the "fundamental truths" of the Q'uran, echoing a phrase Jim Cross had used during their first encounter, "focusing on the fundamentals". Elaborating on the similarities, he explains that both groups, Islamic fundamentalists and blind capitalist economy represented by Underwood Samson, share the same reductionist outlook, view people in binary terms, and thus feeling entitled to get rid of those deemed unworthy.
Being a foreigner without a job, and with his work visa set to expire in two weeks, he returned to Lahore (Pakistan), where he found that foreign professors were leaving the university en masse. He was hired as a lecturer. He voiced dissatisfaction with US intrusions in Pakistan, and this brought him to the attention of the authorities as a suspected Al-Qaida member. They raided his office and family home and threatened his family.
Back to present day, while Lincoln and Changez talk in the café, protestors gather outside, and Lincoln gets periodic pressure from his CIA superiors to get information from Changez about the location of the kidnapped Rainier. The protests become increasingly hostile, and Changez says he has heard of a butcher shop. Contact is lost before the information can be phoned to the CIA operatives who are working with Lincoln.
Lincoln becomes suspicious seeing Changez texting, the latter saying he was just communicating with his sister, Bina (Meesha Shafi); suspicions turn to fury after Lincoln receives a picture of Rainer dead, mistakenly linking the two events. Lincoln believes the only way to safety is to use Changez as a shield venturing into the hostile crowded street. Attempts are made to keep the crowd stable but things get worse and Lincoln falls to the ground, his gun goes off and hits Sameer (Imaad Shah), one of Changez's student interns, who dies from the wound. Another student fires at Lincoln from a balcony, wounding him, after which Lincoln is quickly removed by CIA agents. Lincoln then finds out that Rainer was in fact found dead earlier that day, and that Changez had indeed rejected working with the suspected mastermind behind the kidnapping, Mustafa Fazil. He also told the truth about the text message.
Changez delivers a eulogy at Sameer's funeral, as Lincoln recuperates in a hospital, recalling Changez's words as he listens to the recording of the interview – "Looks can be deceiving. I am a lover of America... although I was raised to feel very Pakistani."Riz Ahmed as Changez Khan.
Kate Hudson as Erica.
Liev Schreiber as Bobby Lincoln.
Kiefer Sutherland as Jim Cross.
Om Puri as Abu, Changez's father.
Shabana Azmi as Ammi, Changez's mother.
Meesha Shafi as Bina Khan, Changez's sister.
Martin Donovan as Ludlow Cooper, a CIA officer and investigator.
Adil Hussain as Mustafa Fazil, a Muslim Activist and Mujahid.
Imaad Shah as Sameer, an academic intern at Lahore University.
Chandrachur Singh as Bandy Uncle.
Ashwath Bhatt as Junaid
Haluk Bilginer as Nazmi Kemal
Nelsan Ellis as Wainwright
Christopher Nicholas Smith as Mike Rizzo
Victor Slezak as Underwood
Clayton Landey as Agent Jackson
Mark Oliver as an Immigration Officer
Steven Kulesza as Shredder No. 1
Kevin Miller as Shredder No. 2
Javed Basu-Kesselman as Pakistani James Bond
Sonya Jehan as Nadia
Gary Richardson as an American professor
The soundtrack album for The Reluctant Fundamentalist was composed by Michael Andrews. On selecting Andrews, Nair said: "I called him up from Delhi. We didn't waste time and were very direct. I asked him how far east he had traveled and he said, 'San Diego!' And I just started laughing." He layered the film's score with traditional Pakistani songs.
The album has Urdu poetry set to music, Pakistani pop, funk and rap music, vocals from Amy Ray of the folk group Indigo Girls, and a new original song from Peter Gabriel, an old friend of Nair's. The film uses an eight-minute duet called "Kangna", sung by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammed, for the opening scene. Songs based on the poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz were used in the film and performed by Atif Aslam and Michael Andrews (English lyrics). Mira said: "His poems are put to music and we composed new versions of his poems. I went back to Pakistan and found Atif Aslam, the Kanye West of Pakistan, who is the nation's biggest pop star."
On composing music for the film, Andrews said: "She has great relationships with folks in the region, and because I was so far away, Mira took care of it. I sent her my music to be overdubbed with melodies represented and she actually recorded Bansuri flute, and also took care of the vocals on 'Mori Araj Suno'. Simultaneously, I added Alam Khan, Ali Akbar's son, and Salar Nadir. Then I put the tracks under the vocal and the orchestra under the mock-up and real Bansuri." This all took place over the Internet, through endless uploading and downloading. "Most of our discussions took place after Mira had worked a 16-hour day."
Andrews served as the primary composer for the music, but some of the songs and music were composed by others. Atif Aslam, Fareed Ayaz, Fahad Humayun, Abu Muhammad, and Amy Ray also served as singers and secondary composers on the album. Nair cast the popular Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi to play the role of Changez's sister, who sings "Bijli Aaye Ya Na Aaye".
The soundtrack was released on Amazon for digital download on 30 April 2013. Internationally, Knitting Factory has released the soundtrack album. In India, Universal Music Group India hold the rights to release the music. Both physical and digital formats of the album were released on 30 April 2013, exclusively on Universal Music.
IFC Films and Cathay-Keris Films co-financed The Reluctant Fundamentalist, with IFC Films handling the North American distribution and Cathay handling the international release. The film had its premieres at 69th Venice International Film Festival and at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in late 2012. In Venice, Nair said she hoped the film reflected the fact that "the modern Pakistan is nothing like what you read in the papers" and that she hoped to bring "some sense of bridge-making, some sense of healing, basically a sense of communication that goes beyond the stereotype".
The film screened in festivals in the United States, Denmark, Venice, Toronto, London, Sweden, and Munich in early 2013. It was released in the United States on 26 April 2013, in India and Canada on 17 May 2013, and in the United Kingdom on 19 May 2013. In Pakistan, the film was released in Urdu as Changez on 24 May by Express Entertainment.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist earned $30,920 in its opening weekend in limited release in the United States, and went on to gross a total of $528,731. Its worldwide gross was $2,167,020. In India, the film was released in 300 theatres by PVR Limited and grossed $273,299. In its opening weekend in Sweden, the gross was $12,286.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist received positive to average reviews from critics. J.R. Jones of Chicago Reader said, "This sure-handed adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's international best seller shows Nair at her best."
On review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an overall 53% "rotten" rating based on 92 reviews, including 49 fresh and 43 rotten, with the rating average of 6.1 out of 10. The website reported critical consensus as: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist is technically proficient with solid acting and cinematography” yet "its message is so ambitious and heavy-handed that some of its power is robbed." Vaihayasi Pande Daniel for Rediff.com gave 3.5/5 stars and says "The Reluctant Fundamentalist has its cinematic moments but is too simplistic in places". At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 0–100 reviews from film critics, the film has ratings score of 54, based on 28 reviews, classified as a generally favourably reviewed film. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian gave it 3/5 stars and commented, "Its message might be flabby, but Mira Nair's adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's novel is still a bold piece of global storytelling". Rummana Ahmed from Yahoo! Movies gave a score of 4/5 and said, "Mira Nair takes on the daunting task of adapting Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and skillfully transforms a monologue into an engaging plot. She weaves an elaborate tale, infusing it with warmth and texture." Damon Wise of Empire Magazine rated the film as 3/5 and said, "Ahmed excels and the set-up is compelling but ultimately this is middle rank stuff from the Monsoon Wedding director". Mohar Basu of Koimoi also rated the film 3 out 5 and says: "What’s Good: The film preserves the mood of Mohsin Hamid’s book well. What’s Bad: A jerky screenplay ruptures the film’s flow multiple times all through. Watch or Not?: Mira Nair’s repertoire glistening with gems like Namesake and Monsoon Wedding is enough to evoke interest. However, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is not even close to being among her best works. With issues left unexplored and characters abandoned abruptly, the film is a desirable watch only for the landmark performance of Riz Ahmed and the grace with which he builds his character."
The Reluctant Fundamentalist won the Audience Favorite—World Cinema award at 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival, while Nair was honoured with the Mill Valley Film Festival Award that year.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist won the 1st Centenary Award at International Film Festival of India 2013.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist won Truly Moving Picture Award at the 2013 Heartland Film Festival.
In 2013, Nair won The Bridge, the German Film Award for Peace, for The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The award is given to film artists whose work builds bridges and inspires tolerance and humanitarianism.