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Saturday, December 2, 2023

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Review: Breezy & Relatable Brit-Asian Rom-Com

Shekhar Kapur’s What’s Love Got To Do With It has been the talk of many film festivals. From Jeddah to Toronto. Now, in a collaboration between StudioCanal and Working Title, the movie gears for a theatrical release. The cross-cultural film, co-written by Jemima Khan offers to melt hearts and make us laugh. Though fictional, it is inspired by her bond with her ex-spouse, Imran Khan.

How do you find lasting love in today’s world? For documentary-maker and dating app addict Zoe (Lily James), swiping right has only delivered an endless stream of Mr Wrongs, to her eccentric mother Cath’s (Emma Thompson) dismay. For Zoe’s childhood friend and neighbour Kazim (Shazad Latif), the answer is to follow his parents’ example and opt for an arranged (or “assisted”) marriage to a bright and beautiful bride from Pakistan. As Zoe films his hopeful journey from London to Lahore to marry a stranger, chosen by his parents, she begins to wonder if she might have something to learn from a profoundly different approach to finding love.

Kapur is no stranger to presenting disparities through relationships over dysfunctional societal exteriors. He also explores this through the principal characters and the familial bonds. With both protagonists, the idea of pretence and introspecting on what we seek (not just romantically) comes to the surface. Ironically, despite the differences, there is a string that binds the two different individuals together. Especially when it comes to their dynamics with their parents.

In previous movies by Shekhar, there is always the presence of vital feminine energy. Be it Shabana Azmi in Masoom, Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen or Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. Each of these characters fights for their beliefs during a divisive environment. Lily James as Zoe joins this league. In a stellar performance by James, she is compelling. Her emotions and tongue-in-cheek one-liners are portrayed well.

Being a documentary filmmaker, she questions the assumed ‘norms’ of society and is vocal about her desires. Even her passive and slightly ignorant mother does not hinder her from being independent. In fact, Emma Thompson, as always is hilarious in this role. When it comes to cross-cultural reaction, she reminded me of Juliet Stevenson in Bend It Like Beckham. Overall, feminism is subtly and effectively addressed here.

When it comes to the British-Asian representation, the movie is true to Desi culture and its integration within the UK. Certain perspectives about being treated differently due to the colour of our skin are relevant. As an Indian born and bred in London, I identified with several contextual references where both these aspects of our identity are clear yet confusing. Interesting how the film shows the sensation of being ‘modern’ in Pakistan is rampant. I’ve observed a similarity in South Mumbai, India. I find myself being more traditional whereas, in the motherland, the influence of the West has grown exponentially. Having said that, it is a sigh of relief that What’s Love avoids being stereotypical and repetitive from other comedies we’ve seen previously.

Filming in locations like Southbank also adds to that reliability. Not only are some of them iconic, but they are frequent social places to visit. Even the conversations which take place. I’m sure every South-Asian household discusses in a similar manner, regardless of which country or religion one hails from. The witty humour is topped by some delightful performances by Shahzad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Jeff Mirza, Mim Shaikh and Asim Chaudhry. Sajal Aly is sheer joy to watch. Generally, a lovely mix of Indian and Pakistani talents, including music by Naughty Boy.

Perhaps the only flaw is its ending. I feel that in an attempt to make it a ‘rom-com’ true to the writer’s experiences, the conclusion becomes predictable. I believe that an unexpected end would’ve elevated the cinematic appeal of this picture. A case in point is Bollywood’s Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Despite the appealing chemistry of the leads, the closure is sweet yet starkly realistic. Having said that though, it is certainly a fun watch.

The world is so packed with doom and gloom. However, What’s Love Got To Do With It? brings back the feel-good factor from British rom-com. It not only presents a contemporary image of Pakistanis in Britain but relates to every other South Asian who is seeking themselves whilst born and bred abroad. A rather pleasant watch!

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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