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Love’s got everything to do with it, says Jemima Khan

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Jemima Khan adored “the whole shebang” about her first foray into the movie industry with her maiden offering, What’s Love Got To Do With It?

She extolled the virtues of performers Emma Thompson, Lily James and Shazad Latif, praised Academy Award nominated director Shekhar Kapur and had plenty of kind words for “great friend” Ol Parker – all integral elements of the delightful romantic comedy drama.

Shazad Latif and Lily James in Jemima Khan’s first movie, What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Everything, that is, except for the writing process.

“That was as hard as nails,” she said with a laugh.

“I found it the most rewarding but definitely the most challenging thing that I’ve done professionally so far.

“I’ll be honest, it took me a really long time.

“I virtually started this film in the Jurassic era.

“However, if you asked me if I ever thought I’d be in Australia, promoting the release of the movie, then the answer would be ‘never in my wildest dreams did I believe I’d be at this point’.

“In the end, I was fortunate because Ol [Parker], who’s a screenwriter and director himself, agreed to read each draft I did and gave me notes on it.

“So, he’d say: ‘Do better with this line’, ‘cut this’ or ‘take the brakes off’.

“I was extremely lucky to have such a mentor.”

Shazad Latif and Lily James.

And, it’s paid huge dividends for Khan, with What’s Love Got To Do With It? opening its season throughout the Hunter this week, with multiple sessions at Reading Charlestown, Hoyts Cinema Charlestown, Event Kotara, Event Glendale, Hoyts Greenhills, Reading Cinemas Maitland, Scotty’s Cinemas Raymond Terrace, Majestic Cinemas Singleton and more venues.

The storyline is simple.

How do you find lasting love in today’s world?

For documentary-maker and dating app addict Zoe (James), swiping right has only delivered an endless stream of Mr Wrongs, to her eccentric mother Cath’s (Thompson) dismay.

As for her childhood friend and neighbour Kaz (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 mother and father, she begins to wonder if she might have something to learn from a profoundly different approach to finding love.

It’s a plot close to the glamorous 48-year-old’s heart… since she was once married to cricketing legend and former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

“It is totally inspired by my time over there, between the ages of 20 and 30,” she said.

“I grew up in Pakistan – and I lived with my ex-husband’s entire extended family – mother, father, sisters, their husbands and children – all in the one house.

“During that period, I developed a deep affection for Pakistan: a vibrant and fascinating, yet often negatively depicted country.

“Living there opened my eyes to a profoundly different perspective on finding lasting love.

“But, this [film] is not biopic – it’s definitely not my story.

“However, everything in it is taken from real life elements, characters, anecdotes and, even, some of the lines I can trace them back to the instance I heard them.

“I even have a crazy mother, who is a little bit like Emma’s portrayal of Cath.”

Emma Thompson and Lily James on the set of What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Calling on the remarkable talents of Thompson, James and Latif worked brilliantly in Khan’s favour, too.

The trio nailed their respective roles with aplomb.

“I genuinely mean this when I say they’re all incredible,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Emma is a dream for any writer or producer to have in their movie.

“But, for my first film, I was ridiculously lucky to have her on board.

“I used to undertake these script meetings with her – and it was amazing.

“As for Lily, she’s just the hardest working, most diligent and brilliant actress.

“She gives everything 3000%.

“Shazad is great, great fun… I love him.

“In fact, he and Lily are terrific friends (away from the set) and have been for years.

“So, I think that made their dynamic work even better.

“They have such an easy chemistry between them.

“In What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Zoe and Kaz are meant to have known each other since childhood, so I believe it actually helped.

“I’ve produced lots of television documentaries in the USA and UK.

“However, I’d never written anything before, so that was completely new for me.

“Now that it’s all done, I feel like a proud mother.

“My ‘baby’ is flying out of the nest.”

And, how would Khan best describe What’s Love Got To Do With It?

“It’s a fun rom-com for a bleak time,” she said.

“I hope Newcastle audiences will be entertained, with some escapism thrown in.

“I, personally, like rom-coms that are a little more grounded in reality as opposed to broad comedies.

“Hopefully, this delivers a bit of that – and has something meaningful to say.

“I feel at this point of our history, where everything appears a little bleak and challenging, we don’t want to see movies that seem like homework.

“We want to be entertained and transported.”

Shazad Latif and Lily James.

About the concept

What’s Love Got To Do With It? began as an exploration of the contrast between Eastern and Western approaches to romance.

“While, for my friends in England, arranged marriage was often seen as some sort of medieval chattel swap (so often confused with the harrowing idea of forced marriage), I started to see some merits in the seemingly unromantic consensual arrangement,” Khan said.

“Over the course of my time in Pakistan, I saw many arranged marriages succeed.

“I may even have been asked to arrange a few myself…

“The couples I met whose marriages had been arranged didn’t start with love – they ended with it.

“According to Pakistani friends, lifelong love was founded on a ‘simmer then boil’ philosophy.

“Compatibility, rather than chemistry, formed a more solid foundation alongside the traditional ideas of shared value systems over adventure, and pragmatism over passion.

“My own marriage was the only love marriage in my ex-husband’s family history.

“And, the only divorce.”

After Khan returned to London, the dating landscape radically shifted; endless options only a swipe away, thanks to the booming popularity of apps, which presented their own problems; the tyranny of choice, the dispiriting sense of disposability, expectations distorted by a diet of rom-coms.

“I joked with my single friends in London that we all might benefit from an unashamedly practical social system that insists on clear intentions stated upfront, a pre-agreed marriage contract to manage expectations, and an opportunity to meet available, like-minded, non-commitment phobic men, chosen by the people who know us best,” she said.

“And, that’s where the idea for the film came from.

“I wanted to reflect this modern-day conundrum; through the two lead characters: Zoe, the commitment-averse app addict and Kaz, who swerves the romantic whirlwind and delegates his choices to his happily married parents.

“When I lived there a common complaint was that, in Western screen depictions, Pakistanis were generally portrayed as either crazed and fanatical, or backwards, their country often labelled one of the most dangerous in the world, talked about only in terms of terrorism or extremism.

“I intended What’s Love Got To Do With It? to be a celebration of the multicultural Britain that my British-Pakistani, Muslim sons inhabit and also of the hospitable, colourful and joyous Pakistan that I know.

“Let’s call it a love letter to Pakistan… my old friend.”

Shazad Latif and Lily James.

About the production

What’s Love Got To Do With It? began life more than 10 years ago as Khan looked to explore a story inspired by her experience of living in Pakistan for a decade.

She intended to show a more joyful and hospitable Pakistan than the one more commonly seen on our screens.

“I wanted to do the Working Title rom-com version of Pakistan for Western audiences for whom there is a tendency to view the country as either backwards or frightening,” she said.

“I hope this film shows some of the joy and colour I encountered in my 10 years living there.”

Before the project, Khan wrote about the “arranged marriage business” in the UK for The New Statesman and The Sunday Times, as a journalist and made a radio documentary for Radio 4.

The speed dating scene was based on a “Practising Muslim Marriage event” she attended in London’s East End while researching a piece for The New Statesman.

“Arranged, or ‘assisted’ marriage is big business in the UK and worldwide,” she said.

“About 55% of marriages worldwide are still estimated to be arranged.

“In Pakistan, that figure is 85%, and in India 90%.

“The South Asian population of the UK numbers more than three million people, which is roughly 5% of the population, and around 4.4% of the UK population are Muslim.

“Arranged marriage is still the norm for the majority in these communities, though that is changing with the younger generation.

“Yet despite its continued popularity and prevalence, arranged marriage – based on choice and consent – is still regularly confused with forced marriage in the West or else considered an alien concept.”

Like her principal character Zoe, Khan interviewed dozens of Pakistani and British Pakistani couples, young and older while researching the script, exploring if, why and how the assisted aspect of their marriages had worked.

“I interviewed about 30 British Pakistani men who were the same age as Kaz and who had either decided to have an arranged marriage or had recently had one, as well as loads of married couples both in the UK and Pakistan, who I found and interviewed, via Twitter,” she said.

A draft of her script was sent to Kapur, the Academy Award-winning visionary behind Bandit Queen (1996), Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

“Shekhar was born in Lahore, grew up in India and was educated in London,” Khan said.

“He experienced all these clashing cultures first-hand.

“Of course, his Eastern lens on the West was the reverse to mine, so he brought a different perspective to these stories.

“He’s a brilliant cinematic director and a master at directing strong, flawed, emotionally complex female characters as he did in Bandit Queen and Elizabeth, which made him an interesting if counter-intuitive choice for a rom-com.

“I think he gave the film a depth it might otherwise not have had.”

Khan didn’t necessarily intend her story to be a rom-com, nor did Kapur particularly intend to direct one.

“I didn’t really know what it was when I started out,” she said.

“It took me a really long time to get it into any kind of shape I felt confident enough to share.

“Along the way, I started to realise that sometimes it’s easier to say something meaningful about complex issues when you do it in a gentle humorous way.

“I think someone once said that a joke is just the truth with a smile.”

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