Arranged marriages, a common occurrence among ultra-Orthodox Jews and traditional Muslims, apparently rarely break up. As one of the chief characters in Skekhar Kapur’s appealing romantic comedy, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, points out, only six percent of these unions fail. “You grow to love the person you’re with,” he says.
The person who advances this claim is Kaz (Shazad Latif), a British doctor of Pakistani descent. He is talking to Zoe (Lily James), his Anglo friend who lives next door in London.
A sophisticated man in his early thirties, Kaz has been convinced by his parents that arranged, or “assisted,” marriages work. A matchmaker promises to find him a “brilliant match.” Zoe, an unmarried and love-starved documentary filmmaker, decides to make a documentary about Kaz’s marital journey, and he agrees to cooperate.
What’s Love Got To Do With It?, which opens in Canadian theatres on May 19, charts his odyssey.
The screenplay was written by Jemima Goldsmith, a British journalist whose first husband, Imran Khan, was a renowned Pakistani cricket player and future prime minister of Pakistan.
The daughter of a German-Jewish father and an Anglo-Irish mother, Goldsmith converted to Islam to marry her husband. She lived with him in Pakistan for a decade and bore him two children. They were divorced almost 20 years ago.
Goldsmith uses her knowledge of Pakistan and Pakistanis to draw a comprehensive picture of a Pakistani family in Britain deeply devoted to its religious and ethnic roots.
It’s surprising that a man of Kaz’s caliber would consent to an arranged marriage. But such is the pull of tradition in his tight-knit middle-class family. Kaz contacts Maymouna (Sajal Aly), a 22-year-old law student in Lahore, and although their conversation on Skype is tame and limited, he goes with the flow and allows his parents to set up their marriage in Pakistan.
In the meantime, Zoe has a one-night stand with a total stranger and finds it unfulfilling. Zoe, in fact, likes Kaz, but he seems unavailable now that he has committed himself to marrying Maymouna.
Zoe’s mother, Cath (Emma Thompson), arranges for her to meet James, a local veterinarian, but she shows no interest in him.
Zoe and Cath accompany Kaz and his family to Lahore, an exotic city brimming with outdoor markets. As Kaz readies himself for for the marriage ceremony, he assures Zoe that passion and chemistry are not important in a relationship because they don’t last. Zoe does not buy his explanation and thinks that Kaz is deluding himself.
At this point in the film, Kaz’s estranged sister, Jamila Levy Khan, is mentioned in passing. She is the black sheep in the family because she married out of the faith and thereby disappointed her parents, who have not seen her in a long time. Her husband, David, is presumably Jewish, but his religion is glossed over. Jamila is an example of a Pakistani woman who flouted tradition, cast aside prejudice and married for love, regardless of her husband’s religious affiliation. She appears later in the movie in an uplifting scene during which old animosities melt and tolerant attitudes emerge.
As for Kaz, he painfully learns that love is one of the essential elements in a marriage. He confesses that his fondness for pretence has led him astray. Having acknowledged this simple but compelling truth, he is ready for a real relationship with a woman he loves.