If you are debating on watching the new Rom Com or are just eagerly waiting for a detailed review of What’s Love Got To Do With It, we heard you! But be careful there’s a SPOILER ALERT.
What’s Love Got To Do With It is a carefully crafted rom-com, channelling witty humor, quirky Pakistani references, poised takes on sensitive issues such as racism, Islamophobia, inter racial marriage and a heartfelt attempt with a distinct Pakistani touch. Directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Jemima Khan, the story is set in London with a diverse cast including Emma Thompson, Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi and Sajal Ali among others.
As we sat in our seats enthusiastic and with high expectations from the stellar cast, enthralling sets and videography, our Sunday mood took a sharp turn an hour in. Read on to know why…
What followed was a conversation around or should we say a rather unswerving opinion on arranged marriages from the ‘Gora’ perspective. Zoe (Lily James), an independent film maker who has trouble finding love, is on a quest to land a documentary grant. She ends up using her childhood friend, Kazim (Shazad Latif) as a crutch, a handsome doctor and doting son, who decides to opt for an assisted marriage through a matchmaker with his parent’s guidance.
Zoe then follows him around with a camera on his journey from London to Lahore to marry Maimoona (Sajal Ali). However she did not seem to understand the process from the very start, not even willing to budge from her opinion despite getting an insider’s view of the happenings. Let alone that, she didn’t even seem to be apologetic about it, offensive much for desi sensitivities? Hence, what seemed like a plot set out to change the notions around arranged marriages and highlight the shortcomings of Western dating, dwindled into a U-turn.
Satire or Digs?
While we adored Emma Thompson’s warm character as Zoe’s mother, her comic timings seemed like micro digs or satire. When showing her excitement to visit the non-existent beaches in Lahore (A solid F grade in geography lessons), she casually throws out a comment on having to wear burkinis, on another instance gushing about the desi shaadi celebrations, she says: “Wasn’t that wonderfully exotic — I feel like a concubine?” Our favorite character by far was Mo, the match maker who had a quirky, fun twist to our notion of Rishta aunties and we have to say we quite enjoyed his performance. Perhaps his character could have been explored more, it would have been a treat.
Shabana Azmi, the groom’s mom, is traditional, soft hearted but stern in her approach towards religion and values. Even she makes an offhand comment about preferring a fair girl who would be wheat-ish at most.
Watching Nani’s character portrayed so accurately was a delightful trip down memory lane, and her impassioned speech about “Fahash Kapde” at the desi wedding felt incredibly authentic.
Lily James delivered a captivating performance as Zoe, delighting viewers with her effortless transition from clubwear to Pakistani Shaadi attire. Despite the cultural differences, James skilfully maintained Zoe’s identity as a modern, independent Western woman, adding depth and authenticity to her character. Whereas Shahzad Latif’s performance as Kazim, torn between two belief systems was riveting from start to finish. However, his nuanced expressions and in-depth knowledge of both cultures were captivating and inspiring.
False Alarm for Love
While meeting on Skype, Kazim quickly falls for Maimoona but what fazes us is how Kazim was so unaware of his own feelings. Did he seriously not realize there was no chemistry with her? Was he just trying to be a good son or was he lying to himself?
Maimoona is young, demure and beautiful though her character missed that arc. One moment she is shy, barely answering anything and the next she is dancing solo to questionable music on her mehndi. Even when left alone with Kazim, she fails to bring out her real personality. She was obviously not happy with the marriage, but might we ask what happened to her on the night of the mehndi? Was that her dancing away the pain of heartbreak?
The sets and locations were gorgeous but just a quick thought, why was Maimoona’s haveli so torn down, do people still actually live in those?
Despite her educational background as a lawyer, it is puzzling that Maimoona lacked the courage to stand up for her marital rights, instead, hastily agreeing to her nikah. This raises questions about the societal pressures & expectations that may have influenced her decision-making, but educated parents always ask for acceptance in 2023, (especially when you represent them on an international platform).
To talk about your first kiss before the night of your wedding isn’t the best idea. What was Kazim thinking was going to come out of it? Can we say he was in a sense doing a dis-service to himself and Maimoona both?
Endless Wait for A Twist
Zoe seems reluctant each time Kazim talks about his arranged marriage and there are brief moments of intimacy and awkwardness. If we weren’t expecting a twist, their chemistry and the said moments were enough to have us know they will end up together. The first half has us believing the movie is set to just show arranged marriages as a fairy tale success with examples of Kazim’s mom/dad, dadi/dada and brother & his wife as living examples, well that just flipped soon. And we felt betrayed because in the end, the storyline returned to a one-sided advocacy proving the notions westerners have to be correct.
The unresolved questions about Kazim’s sister marrying a Gora kept us on the edge of our seats, hoping for a backup love story. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the interfaith marriage that had caused such consternation was ultimately accepted by all in the end. While Islam traditionally frowns upon such unions, Western culture embraces them, and it was hurtful to see the characters evolve against their preaching.
What’s Love Got To Do With It delivered characters that were so likeable but barely fleshed out, a storyline so weak and potential left untouched that we felt cheated out of a story. The narrative didn’t have to glorify assisted marriage but perhaps could have represented it in a more transparent and true light.
Is Love The Only Success Meter?
Haven’t we been through this love triumphs all, and the ‘lack of it, fails relationships’ ideology too many times? Why does it have to only push through the beliefs of Muslims? We appreciate the effort and do believe in love being a powerful feeling, however marriage is not just about love at the end of the day. It’s a much more practical and a long-term decision that needs to be taken as per your personal beliefs, legal rights, your hopes and what’s going to preferably keep the family together. It’s an institution, which serves a certain purpose in society.
The occurrence that Maimoona had a lover already, is why the concept of arranged marriages is absurd itself! Maimoona chose to hide it while comfortably showing Kazim the texts later on, once married. Maimoona & Kazim were both mature, educated individuals who shouldn’t have been so disconnected from their own parents that they couldn’t confide in them about matters of the heart. The success of a marriage doesn’t depend on it being an arranged or a love marriage, it’s a gamble either way. Hence, this clearly is a distorted POV and not from our part of the world at least.
What Shone Through
What we appreciate is, the movie beautifully depict the challenges Muslims face daily through Kazim’s point of view – about how Muslims may be proud of their identity internally but if they even try to say that out loud in public, they are met with a questionable gaze. How they are made to feel responsible if a blast or casualty occurs anywhere in the world and made to live with a magnifying glass, waiting for them to slip. Moreover, the dialogues were sensitively written and conveyed the gravity of what we feel. The story further shines a light on an additional pressure on desis when it comes to getting married according to your parents wishes, your society, religion and then perhaps also, to find yourself real and lasting love.
If you love simple and rather cliché rom coms, you will surely like What’s Love Got To Do With It. It carried an unmistakeable holiday movie vibe to it which would be a great watch for some uncomplicated fun.
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