In a world filled with dating apps and meeting people online, Jemima Khan's rom-com What's Love Got to Do with It? (now in theatres), starring Lily James, Shazad Latif and Emma Thompson, questions how we can really find our perfect match for a lasting relationship.
“Many moons ago, I had the idea for the film after coming back from having lived in Pakistan for 10 years between the ages of 20 and 30,” Khan told Yahoo Canada, adding that she was living with much of her ex-husband's extended family.
“Everyone had arranged marriages and I watched them up close, and I came back at a time when my friends were thinking about having kids and settling down in their 30s. We used to have this discussion, if your parents were to choose for you, or the people that know you best, who might they choose? And how would it be if you took the component of kind of sexual chemistry out of it?”
In What's Love Got to Do with It? (which made its debut at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival) Zoe (James), a documentary filmmaker, hasn't been particularly successful in her romantic life. Her childhood friend and neighbour Kazim "Kaz" (Latif) reveals to her that he's decided to go the assisted marriage route, and reluctantly agrees to let Zoe document the process.
Through the help of a matchmaker, and the opinions of his parents Aisha (Shabana Azmi) and Zahid (Jeff Mirza), Kaz gets engaged to Maymouna (Sajal Aly), a women in her 20s who lives in Pakistan. As Zoe travels to Lahore to see her best friend marry a woman he's only ever spoke to on Skype, Zoe starts to evaluate if a relationship that didn't start with love can end with it.
“I love family dramas,” Latif said about taking on the role of Kaz. “For me, having a family drama in the guise of a rom-com, ... it was such an interesting thing to do."
"Also, being a lead in a rom-com, as a brown man, was such an exciting, rare prospect.”
James and Latif make a brilliant leading duo. They were friends before this project and their chemistry on screen makes it easy to feel invested in the story, as each character tries to find a long-lasting relationship.
Latif also identified that he understands the struggle that Kaz has to please his family, while still wanting real love with a partner.
“He's got this deep internal struggle, which a lot of people, not just South Asian people [can relate to]," Latif said. "Do I please my family, with this deep, deep love for his mother, for his family, for his father, for his sister. He's trying to hold this family together and he thinks this is the way he can do that."
“But then also, he has to try and follow his own heart as well. That gamble ... was just a very interesting thing to play. I can understand why he would do that, because there is a lot of added pressure from trying to please other people.”
Showing 'the other side of Pakistan' on screen
In Khan's writing for What's Love Got to Do with It? there is a great balance of very fun, comedic moments, with this cultural analysis of how we find love and different perspectives on marriage.
“My taste in rom-coms is the kind of rom-coms that are slightly more grounded in reality,” Khan said. “I like a rom-com which has something meaningful to say behind the laughs.”
“I think it's sometimes easier to see something profound without bludgeoning people with your point of view, to say it through a joke.”
As Khan highlighted, this film was also a way for her to show a side of Pakistan that isn't often depicted in the West.
“They have tended, on Western screens, to [show] the darker side of Pakistan,” Khan said. “I don't think it's surprising to say that Muslim characters are quite often the baddies in films in the West and Pakistan is quite often depicted as a very scary place.”
“This is a rom-com version, which shows the other side of Pakistan, which is not usually on our screens, which is the colour and the fun, and the vibrancy and the hospitality. And some of the joy that is very much part of the culture of Pakistan that I wanted to kind of showcase.”
Ultimately, the writer and co-producer had the goal to not be judgemental in the film's presentation of what arranged marriage can look like, stressing that while it is often combined with the concept of forced marriage, the two things are very different.
“The type of marriage that Kaz is submitting to is one based entirely on consent and introduction," Khan said.
“I hope the film makes a pretty non-judgmental view about comparing different ways to find lasting love, whether it's so much choice on the apps, which I think has its pitfalls. Or so little choice with something like [arranged marriage], ... which can often present too few options. I think that there is possibly a kind of middle way somewhere between passion and pragmatism.”