What’s Love Got To Do With It… never mind that the movie is so titled, expect it to have everything to do with love! Even though it plays around with phrases such as ‘fall into like and walk into love,’ even if it looks at the system of arranged marriages with empathy and regard, it makes us believe in the power of love and happily ever after. Written by Jemima Khan, ex-wife of Imran Khan former prime minister of Pakistan and directed by our very own Shekhar Kapur this coming together of East and West is as much about cultural specificity as universal emotions of connect, concern and love.
Based in London, the story of two friends, one Pakistani doctor Kazim “Kaz” Khan (Shazad Latif) and the other British documentary maker Zoe (Lily James) stands out for lightness of touch which transcends frivolity. In the same league as The Hundred-Foot Journey, this cross-cultural slice is delightful, insightful too even if it does not break any new ground. Sure there is depth in the manner in which Zoe goes about turning around fairytales on its head. From Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast to Sleeping Beauty, our beauty with brains Zoe has her own versions of bedtime tales for her friend’s children. ‘This Cinderella is more interested in glass ceiling than glass slippers,’ says a lot. But even independent woman needs love. Where will she find it … is not hard to guess?
The storyline is predictable and you know which way this one will turn yet you remain invested as the story takes us from England to Pakistan where arranged marriage of Kaz with Maymouna (Sajal Aly) is on the cards. Though the film has not been shot in Pakistan, cinematographer Remi Adefarasin manages to get the flavour, customs and vibrancy of the Islamic nation without going overboard. There is mehndi ki raat, a Sufi touch (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan appears as qawwali singer) and the nikaah tradition but nothing is over-explained or overdone. Hijab is mentioned matter of fact so is the Muslim identity issue which could at times lead to racial profiling. With focus on a Pakistani British family Islamophobia is out of question. But so is any attempt to rake up minority issues. Only the film tries to look at how and where does love marriage fit in a traditional value system that values family above all. Arranged marriages are not viewed disparagingly or with any acerbic scepticism, only with dash of humour.
The way arranged marriage is described, ‘love contractually or as assisted marriage’ to which Zoe’s response ‘as in assisted suicide’ bring a chuckle or two. You can feel the sparkle of writing. Dialogues have weight and punch, “you don’t have to start with love you can end with love.”
Casting is spot on. If Lily James is just right for the part of this modern day fairytale, Pakistani British actor Shazad Latif too is tailor-made for the man looking for a partner ‘British enough for me and Pakistani enough for my family.’ And he certainly is as British as Pakistani. Shabana Azmi playing his mother is consummate like always. Emma Thompson as Zoe’s mother is the heartbeat of the film. Actually, it’s in her we see the easy connect between civilizations. With ease she fits into ethnic clothes and the family of her Pakistani neighbours. If as a mother her concern for her single daughter Zoe is palpable, her camaraderie with Khans has a zing to it. Pakistani actress Sajal Aly (Maymouna) looks pretty and defies a stereotype or two about what Pakistani women are like.
While the film may question how can two people growing up on the same street be different and dwell upon are they continents away or bound by the country of their upbringing? But in this romcom there are no thorny issues at play. A feel good sanguine film that will make you walk out of the cinema-halls with a smile on your lips and spring in your step, it’s an easy watch. Refreshing, if not profound… here East could be East but the twain meet in a heart-warming union.
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