Synopsis – In London, an award-winning film-maker documents her best friend’s journey into an assisted marriage in line with his family’s Pakistani heritage. In the process, she challenges her own attitude towards relationships.
My Take – Though clash culture romantic comedies are dime a dozen, this latest from director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth. Bandit Queen) certainly hit home for me personally, particularly due to its Indian-Pakistani flavor, and the culturally hot representation of the Muslim vs non-Muslim debate, and the arranged marriage system.
Thankfully, despite the heavy handed topics to spare, British screenwriter Jemima Khan, the former wife of Imran Khan the cricketer and future Prime Minister of Pakistan, no doubt drawing in her own experience, keeps everything quite light with pleasant characters strolling in and out, resulting in a fun, frothy and enjoyable experience which also provides an insight into cultural differences and prejudices.
Yes, it doesn’t completely commit to its central idea of a more nuanced and balanced exploration of arranged marriages but it remains a really good romantic comedy that has a little more unpredictability than the average rom com and boasts of a cast that delivers a charming and honest performances, with a soundtrack that further adds to the film’s light-hearted tone.
The film is full of wit and positive messages that will certainly leave you feeling uplifted.
The story follows Zoe (Lily James), an award-winning documentary filmmaker who despite her success is now finding it difficult to get funding due to the heaviness of her topics. Her personal life too isn’t exactly great, as she goes from one disappointing hook-up to the next, hoping to find the right connection, and of course it doesn’t help that her mother, Cath (Emma Thompson), has been constantly fussing about her single status.
However, a massive opportunity comes knocking when Kazim “Kaz” Khan (Shazad Latif), a London doctor of Pakistani Muslim parents and her childhood friend who lives on the same street as her mother, announces that he wants to have an arranged marriage, with his parents, Aisha (Shabana Azmi) and Zahid (Jeff Mirza), completely involved throughout the process, Zoe convinces him to let her film his journey, and explore how assisted marriages have evolved.
And before you know it, he’s off to Lahore to marry Maymouna (Sajal Aly), a younger girl who is studying to be a civil rights lawyer, he has met only over Zoom and spoken a few times on the phone. But as Zoe begins to document his journey, her camera slowly reveals the stumbling blocks in each approach.
Whilst the drama predictably plays out, Shekhar Kapur‘s direction is really good, especially with the tone which starts of as something broader in its humor and then gradually scaling that humor back as it gets surprisingly emotional and sincere by the end.
Exploring the different ways that relationships can be built, and what cultures can teach one another, the film has a light feel and emphasizes particularly on finding your own identity and truth rather than conforming to external expectations. The characters are well-fleshed out and likable enough to make us cheer them on for their happy ending.
While director Kapur might not have any previous experience within the genre but his lavish, action-heavy period dramas have allowed him to master epic canvas storytelling and it lends the film a glossy grandness that’s been missing from the rom com.
It helps that he is working with a script from Jemima Khan, pulling elements from her own experience of marrying a Muslim man and living in Pakistan for almost a decade.
Yes, the running theme that sees Zoe bringing harsh reality to fairy tales doesn’t work in the way the film seems to think, yet the film works as a lively cross-cultural study of Western and Asian views of love and marriage, and plays an even hand in examining the compromises of both approaches. The film also lands some subtle gags about racism like how Kaz must go early to the airport to allow time for the random searches.
Performances wise, it helps that Lily James and Shazad Latif are real life, longtime friends, allowing an easy on-screen chemistry which is very palpable. The two are undoubtedly natural actors, having proved their mettle in various projects.
Emma Thompson delivers a winningly funny, frantic performance, constantly thrilled by her growing knowledge of cultural differences. Shabana Azmi is effortless as always, and Pakiza Baig is a pure delight.
A terrific Sajal Aly adds to the glam quotient of the flick, while Asim Chaudhry brings in some scene stealing humor. In other roles, Jeff Mirza, Mim Shaikh, Iman Boujelouah, Mariam Haque, Taj Atwal and Sindhu Vee are good. On the whole, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ is a very likable cross-cultural rom com with a lot of heart and soul.
Directed – Shekhar Kapur
Starring – Lily James, Emma Thompson, Shazad Latif
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 108 minutes