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Love and arranged marriage

The movie “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” hits American audiences on Friday May 5, 2023. It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022 and has been going through a staggered worldwide commercial release this year.

Directed by Lahore (British India) born Shekhar Kapur, it touches on many aspects of marital pursuits in both Western and South Asian cultures, and while it may seem to focus on the topic of arranged marriages, it ends up doing a bit more. It is the closing tangent that makes this movie more valuable than it may be perceived to be. The journey to get to that point, however, is a bit bumpy and funny. One could label this movie a Romantic Comedy (Rom-Com) with a message.   

The picture shows a man and a woman smiling
Shazad Latif and Lily James. Photo Credit STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios.jpg

Jemima Khan writes the script

There is an added interest in this movie because the scriptwriter and producer is Jemima Khan (Goldsmith), a British socialite and someone who has herself lived in Pakistan while she was married to cricket legend and former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Jemima knows Pakistan, and the city of Lahore very well and is familiar with the sub-cultures that thrive there. She has woven a liberal story here nuanced with complications and controversy. It also deals with a sensitive subject that is not often discussed openly in Muslim culture, and it rarely appears in films. One can give Jemima Khan a full five-star rating for subtlety of script here. 

The picture shows two women standing next to each other and smiling
Shabana Azmi and Emma Thompson. Photo Credit STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios..jpg

We are introduced to two families in this movie. The English Stevensons and the  Pakistani Khans have been neighbors in London for a long time. Two people live in the Stevenson house, Cath (Emma Thompson), the batty, fun-loving mother, and her daughter, documentary filmmaker Zoe Stevenson (Lily James) who is trying her best to balance her work and romantic life and not really succeeding at the latter.

The Khan’s household has three generations living in their house, matriarch grandmother, Nani Jan Khan (Pakiza Baig), Mother figure Aisha Khan (Shabana Azmi), her husband Zahid Khan (Jeff Mirza), and son Kazim (Kaz) Khan (Shazad Latif). We meet them all at a colorful Mehndi (Henna) wedding event held for Farooq (Mim Shaikh) and Yasmin Khan (Iman Boujelouah) at the house which is a big party in which Kaz’s little sister Jamila is missing.    

Arranged Marriages in Multicultural Britain

Kaz and Zoe grew up together and even share a treehouse, an old hiding place that they still use. It is in the backdrop of the party going on downstairs that Kaz tells Zoe in the treehouse that he is going to get married to someone that he does not know yet. His bride will be chosen through the arranged or assisted marriage route. Zoe is mystified because she cannot envision this for her childhood friend or for herself. But it does give her an idea for a documentary that she is able to sell to her backers. So, Zoe’s “Arranged Marriages in Multicultural Britain” project takes off.  

The funniest character to make an appearance in this movie is Mo (Asim Chaudhry) the local South Asian matchmaker who interviews Kaz and his parents to find a suitable bride for him. Mo could have been given a longer role in this film to generate even more laughter. But arranged romance soon takes over and Kaz gets engaged online to Maymouna (Sajal Aly) who lives in Pakistan. The Khans all fly off to Lahore with Cath and Zoe, who with a camera in her hand films everything that she can for her documentary. The Lahore wedding scene is quite liberal, a surprise for Kaz. Maymouna turns out to be quite the life of the party.  

The picture shows a group of men and women smiling
Pazika Baig, Iman Boujelouah, Mim Shaikj, Shabana Azmi, Shazad Latif and Jeff Mirza Photo Credit STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios.jpg

A comedy after all

Despite the surprises of Lahore, Kaz and Maymouna get together and come back to London. The film almost loses its focus there as things soon get seriously complicated, but this fact is treated lightly. It is a comedy after all. Some characters in it are not given enough depth to grow on the viewer. Sajal Aly as Maymouna plays a soft role in this film. Cath and Zoe are convincing and Shazad Latif as Kaz along with Shabana Azmi as his mother Aisha, all hit their acting marks. 

The surprise in the end is that this movie is about a subject which Muslim families are slowly facing as they settle in Western countries. One cannot add details in this review because it would be too much of a spoiler. Everyone has been pretending to be happy in their lives thus far, except for grandma. But true love is also in the picture and finally surfaces, as a closing forbidden romance makes its entrance into the story thanks to Zoe. It appears that love has everything to do with it.

We can leave it at that with this hint: Where is Jamila?