‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ is a Delightful Multicultural RomCom Based on the Lives of Two Millennials
- A beautiful ensemble cast featuring, Shabana Azmi and Emma Thompson with Shazad Latif and Lily James and directed by Shekhar Kapur.
I had an opportunity to interview the male lead Shazad Latif from the new movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It? A throwback to Tina Turner’s hit number, the film is a light-hearted multicultural RomCom based on the lives of two millennials Kasim Khan (played by Shazad Latif, a British actor of Scottish and Pakistani heritage, well known for “Spooks,” “Toast of London,” and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in “Penny Dreadful.” The handsome young actor with Hugh Grant-like floppy hair-do, melting eyes and winsome dimples is very laid back and has a great screen presence.
As the story revolves around Kasim, a dutiful second-generation Muslim doctor, and Zoe, a London-based documentary filmmaker (Lily James of “Mama Mia Here We Go Again,” “Baby Driver” and “Pride and Prejudice” fame.) While Zoe is trying unsuccessfully to find her “prince charming” through dating apps much to her frustration and mounting anxiety about her mother, “the great” Emma Thompson, she is surprised by Kasim’s news. Her childhood friend and “the boy next door” is getting married to a 22-year-old “bride” from Pakistan. It is an arranged or assisted marriage (as he calls it) and he is okay with it. Agreeable to growing to love his wife slowly after marriage, following his parents’ example, who were introduced by their parents, for the sake of stability. “Only 6% of arranged marriages end in divorce he says,” compared to 50% of love marriages. I was not aware of that.
Zoe cannot imagine that a handsome, urbane, and very dateable doctor wants an arranged marriage. Kaz as she calls him is fully westernized and smokes and drinks behind his parents’ backs. But deep down he does not want to ruffle the conservative feathers of his immigrant Pakistani parents. He admits to his mother Mrs. Khan played so elegantly by a Shabana Azmi who plays the role of a doting Muslim mother wanting to retain some semblance of her cultural roots in her son’s life. Mr. Khan senior, on the other hand, confesses to the match-maker to source a “Punjabi, Baluchi or Sindhi daughter-in-law.” Zoe is intrigued by the wedding proposal over Skype and decides to follow the Khan family to Lahore to film a documentary on this cross-cultural marriage pitching it as: “Love Contractually.”
The script written by Jemima Khan who was once married to Pakistani cricketer and prime minister Imran Khan is rich with first-hand insights about Pakistani culture. Shekhar Kapur shows his directorial leger-de-main in an easy albeit vibe with realistic descriptions of Lahori food, culture, Anarkali bazaar and the glamorous nikah ceremony, and dancing. While Kaz is enamored by Sufi music, the not-so-coy-bride to be Maymouna (Sajal Ali) is openly drinking and dancing to Bollywood beats with her friends. It is soon obvious that the arranged marriage cannot arrange a romance between the two newlyweds. While Emma Thompson bedecked in a flouncy gharara is the “belle of the ball”, she still retains her political incorrectness towards the Pakistani traditions: “Wasn’t that wonderfully exotic — I feel like a concubine”, Shabana Azmi quotes the Prophet Mohammad, gives pertinent insights to Zoe about the wedding traditions and encourages her son to garner faith in the institution of an arranged marriage.
The movie has other interesting and conflicting subplots involving Kasim’s Jamila (Mariam Haque) sister, Maymoona’s special friend, Kasim’s brother, and their conservative nani-jaan (maternal grandmother). I would have liked more gritty twists and turns in the storyline but perhaps for want of time and probably in an unavoidable appeal to a Western audience, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” pivots into a formulaic Hollywood happy ending. Everyone comes together on the auspicious occasion of the Holy festival of Eid, probably coming to terms with the truth prompted by Zoe’s documentary.
Don’t get me wrong, the natural chemistry between Kaz and Zoe is apparent from the get-go and you can see sparks flying when he fastens an Afghani necklace around her neck or when the tailor tells them that “ Princess Di wanted to marry a Pakistani heart surgeon” but perhaps I did not want the Zoe’s “homely,” “nice” or “wicked’ suitors to fold haplessly like a house of cards but then– they did not stand a chance besides the “dashing” Kaz in the tree house. “What’s Love?” Is playing in theaters now.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.