The story they were looking for

ENTREPRENEURSHIP / A young man who dared to dream big and chased those dreams via illegal shortcuts.

TRUST ME – The Waleed Ahmed Story portrays a fascinating story of a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, born in Norway, who became the country’s most promising entrepreneur at the tender age of 20. His invention was a solar-powered mobile phone cover that could charge itself by sunlight and artificial light. Waleed promised to make a global impact with his product. Not only was the product going to make him rich, but it was also going to help people in third world countries.

One of Waleed’s most vigorous promoters was the Trade Minister himself, Trond Giske. The two would appear on television programs boasting of the remarkable success this product enjoyed on the international markets. In fact, Waleed became the youngest person ever to receive a six-digit government grant as a part of the Innovation Norway program. With this amazing government support, he was able to establish his company «Green Norway.» The name itself had a nice ring, promoting Norway’s image as being an ecological country.

After the main broadcaster, NRK termed Waleed as «Norway’s Mark Zuckerberg», a media storm exploded and propelled him straight to the highest circles. Here, his real talents were to shine with impeccable self-confidence and natural ease. He wined and dined with the royals, Harvard professors, and judges from the International Court in the Hague. Being on a first-name basis with everyone, he was not shy asking powerful people for favours. Waleed was an incredibly charismatic, ambitious and goal-oriented young man whose dream of making it on the Forbes’ list seemed possible.

What evaded everyone was that the product itself barely sold a hundred units in Norway and never made any international sales. In fact, the solar-powered mobile phone cover was a Chinese product Waleed had purchased himself online from some obscure webpage. The product actually wasn’t even functional as it required 58 days of sunlight to recharge a mobile battery.

What evaded everyone was that the product itself barely sold a hundred units in Norway and never made any international sales.

In other words, he hoodwinked the kingdom of Norway and its whole media scene. But how was he able to do that when the product never worked in the first place? Trade Minister Giske admits that he might have started the whole hype. He had been smitten immediately by Waleed when he walked into his office with his firm handshake and positive energy. «The story was extremely suited. A young entrepreneur from an ethnic minority with an eco-friendly product… it just couldn’t get better than that. It was a story we needed, and we were looking for…» When Giske’s own prototype did not work, «I blamed it on my own incompetence.»

TRUST ME - The Waleed Ahmed Story, a film by Emil Trier
TRUST ME – The Waleed Ahmed Story, a film by Emil Trier

An eye-opener

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The first part of TRUST ME – The Waleed Ahmed Story hints at many explanations for why Waleed could fool as many as he did. The story touches upon some very sensitive nerves that run through Norwegian society.

Being myself a second-generation immigrant born and raised in Norway, I can relate to many aspects of this story. Although not brown-skinned, I can relate to growing up as an outsider, especially in Norway, where belonging means everything. I still remember how infuriating it felt when adult strangers asked me where I was from, continuously being reminded of being different from the mainstream and feeling overlooked in a school system that encourages mediocracy. As Waleed says, «Norway is extremely conformist – you can’t really be yourself.»

When Waleed is confronted with the question of how he could deceive everyone with a product that didn’t work, he explains it pretty straightforwardly. «I think they believed in the story because it was a politically correct story. Even though the product did not work, it didn’t matter because the media sold it, and it was a selling story. I could hardly believe it myself.»

I find this pervasive climate of «political correctness» in Norway I find to be alarming. I have never experienced in other countries that I have lived in such a lack of diversity in opinion and tastes as in Norway.

Not only does it make people uncritical, but it also encourages the superficiality of the main media, which seems more focused on mainstream opinion-making rather than conducting investigative journalism. And although TRUST ME – The Waleed Ahmed Story touches upon these issues, it never goes into any depth. The director has done a good job reconstructing and explaining the whole con story in chronological and logical order, but the film itself lacks a clear opinion.

TRUST ME - The Waleed Ahmed Story, a film by Emil Trier
TRUST ME – The Waleed Ahmed Story, a film by Emil Trier

The film in its form

The story of Waleed is exciting with quick turns, twists and tragedy – it has everything a good story needs – and yet the film itself fails its subject by lacking these very same qualities. Although the cinematic frameworks well – especially during the beautifully shot reconstruction scenes – the editing doesn’t have the dynamic one would expect from such a juicy story. In the second half, the film feels as if it slugs along, telling us one con story after another, without making us feel the emotional and dramatic rollercoaster that it is. I find the soundtrack too timid and generic as well. This extraordinary story will do fine for a television audience; it just lacks the qualities it needs to make it to the big screen. It is a shame considering that Waleed’s story has all the drama of a good Hollywood film.

However, I feel that we haven’t heard the last of Waleed. Next year he will be released from an 11-year prison sentence in the USA. With his amazing talent for self-promotion, he might do well as a real estate agent or maybe a politician! Whatever he chooses to do next, I bet it will be big.

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Margareta Hruza
Margareta Hruza
Hruza is a Czech/Norwegian filmmaker and a regular film critic at Modern Times Review.

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