What's Love Got to Do with It? Movie Review: An atypical rom-com 

What's Love Got to Do with It? Movie Review: An atypical rom-com 

What's Love Got to Do with It? has no surprises in the end. But it doesn’t take the classical route of romcom but makes you want to be invested in this story of cross-culture romance
Rating:(3 / 5)

When a name like Shekhar Kapur is associated with a project, especially when it is his return to the director's chair after 15 years, we don't really expect him to let go of the reins. However, his latest, What's Love Got to Do with It? is a film that allows the writer to shine bright. Written by Jemima Goldsmith, What's Love Got to Do with It? is as international a story can get and still stays true to its inter-continental and inter-cultural aspects. It has a very rooted concept that is definitely very Indian but has confounded the rest of the world — Arranged marriages or as some call them... assisted marriages. 

Cast: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson

Director: Shekhar Kapur 

Writer: Jemima Goldsmith

What's Love Got to Do with It?’ is about two neighbours — a Pakistan-origin British doctor Kazim Khan and documentary filmmaker Zoe — who have been childhood friends, and grow up in the business district of posh London. There is no doubt that the film is set in the ecosphere of first-world humans and their problems, but where it gets layered is when the writer brings in some poignant issues of what it is to be a second-class citizen in a country where you don’t look like the native. When Kazim says that despite their houses being next to each other, they seem to be from different continents, we understand the layered meaning of that statement. Coming back to the story, as Kazim’s family gets him prepared for an arranged marriage, Zoe is rather intrigued by it all, and is using this concept as material for her documentary. 

What makes What's Love Got to Do with It? interesting for an Indian like me, who isn't really amused by parental-guided matchmaking, is how the outsider's gaze lays bare the lopsidedness of it all. There are references to late Princess Diana's marriage of convenience with King Charles, and the former's wish to marry a Pakistani doctor. Incidentally, this isn’t the only Diana-Charles reference. When Kazim is documented during the wedding, he is asked by Zoe, “Whatever love is?” the same line of questioning Charles was asked when he was married to the late Princess. The film also metaphorically draws a parallel between Zoe and the fairy tales that young girls are first exposed to reading. Early on, Zoe, who has a shoddy dating history, says how she aims to be one that breaks the glass ceiling than being the Cinderella in a glass shoe. The way she narrates fairy tales to her friend’s children while placing herself in the protagonist’s shoes is wonderfully sketched. From identifying the Beast to her Beauty, to being the Rapunzel who gets called by the Prince to come down, the fairy tales act as a measure of how Zoe finds love.

However, the film is bogged down by certain missteps. We know what is going to happen in the lives of Zoe and Kazim, but the Lahore portions, which come at crucially-paced parts of the screenplay, fail to impress. Despite this, I particularly enjoyed a sequence of the Pakistani wedding where the only elderly woman to let her hair down and dance away to glory is Zoe’s mother Cath, and the only Caucasian in the event besides her daughter. There are minute details that accentuate the narrative, especially the one where the bride dances at her own wedding only in the after party, way after the men move away from the centre stage. 

What's Love Got to Do with It? doesn’t take the classical romcom route and wants you to be invested in this cross-culture narrative. It reiterates how marriage is more than just two people meeting. It’s more of two people identifying each other’s complexities, and the dynamics they are born into and figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. Now, if this isn't something that love has to do with, then what is? 

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