What’s love got to do with it? makes a major representational error

What’s love got to do with it? spoilers follow.

On the surface, What’s love got to do with it? is a classic British romantic comedy with cross-cultural elements.

The film stars Lily James as Zoe, a documentary filmmaker who needs a subject for her next project, and Shazad Latif as Kazim, her British Pakistani neighbor and close friend since childhood.

Kazim decided he wanted to settle down and find a wife, urging his parents to help him secure an assisted or arranged marriage. Intrigued by this mate-finding process, Zoe convinces Kazim to be the subject of her next documentary, following him from London to Lahore in search of a wife.

But despite the good intentions of writer-producer Jemima Khan to expose assisted marriage and love in South Asian culture, and a cast including acclaimed Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi and director Shekhar Kapur, the film caters to Western audiences and tropes from romance comics, failing to make coherent comments. on the topics to be discussed.

Lily James, what does love have to do with it?

studio channel

In one scene, Zoe and Kazim talk about their plans to find a wife. “What about love?” asks Zoe, a fair question from someone who isn’t familiar with the concept of assisted marriage. Kazim replies that “you grow to love the person you’re with.”

Written as a more worldly character than her ineptly abusive mother, played by Emma Thompson, you’d expect Zoe to accept that response – instead she compares the situation to Stockholm syndrome.

Zoe also bills her documentary as “Love, the Deal” and describes Kazim’s experience as “marrying a stranger chosen by his parents.” AND factually incorrect.

That’s not to say South Asian families don’t put pressure on singles looking for a partner. Some careers are valued more than others, as are castes, body types and skin colors – problematic reality shows Indian matchmaking easy.

To counter this, the film touches on a subtly sharp point about color and caste People just don’t do anythingAsim Chaudhry asks Kazim and his parents about their wedding preferences.

What's love got to do with it


What is love… clearly aims to show the colossal difference between forced and assisted marriages. Filled with scenes of happy couples sharing their own stories, whether they were assisted or “loving” marriages, it reinforces the message that assisted relationships is not the cruel or embarrassing concept it is sometimes made out to be.

Zoe’s comments throughout the video are therefore contradictory. She repeatedly questions Kazim’s decision, calling his future wife a “stranger” she does not know. Kazim’s dialogue seems to serve as a tool to educate Western audiences about assisted marriage.

The script tries to show how modern and progressive this kind of engagement is Actually, emphatically comparing divorce procedures in different cultures. However, while many may learn something, none of this information is new information, and South Asian viewers may feel condescending.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Zoe and Kazim meet at the end of the film after Kazim’s short-lived marriage (to Sajal Aly’s Maymouna) comes to an amicable end. This is what viewers expected from this genre and it was obvious from the very beginning.

However, there could have been a much more powerful statement, debunking so many of the stereotypes it plays.

Take Maymouna, a shy, quiet girl in front of her family who turns into a rebellious party girl as soon as she ties the knot. Couldn’t she be a confident and shameless young woman whose family supported her ambitions instead of hiding them?

sajal ali as maymouna in what love has to do with it

Photo credit: Robert Viglasky

The problem may lie in Khan’s outsider status. The writer-producer was married to retired cricketer and future Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, who lived in Pakistan for almost a decade.

Khan undeniably has a first-hand experience with South Asian culture, and it’s obvious she chose to portray this lovingly in her debut as a screenwriter, but her perspective can never be a living experience.

It is interesting Zoe’s documentary is abandoned by her producers because they cannot support her project, which was made through a “white prism”. Is this a playful acknowledgment of Khan’s own privilege or a preemptive defense of that very criticism? Hard to say.

What is love… is not entirely without merit. There are scenes that many South Asians will laugh at, recognizing their own family experiences on screen.

What's love got to do with it


Khan also does an admirable job of tackling difficult topics such as the culture of shame and mixed-race marriage – the plot involving Kazim’s sister Jamila is particularly well done. There are big Bollywood dance scenes, bright lehengas and meddling aunts, which makes this watch a fun style.

But with the caliber of South Asian faces both on and off screen, What’s love got to do with it? had great potential to overthrow stereotypes.

Instead, the movie recreates the tired stories of the South Asian experience and leaves the white role as the savior, all the while assisted marriage is a crazy idea. Unfortunately, there’s not much to love here.

What’s love got to do with it? is already in theaters.

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