Filmmaker Jemima Khan has told Sky News she would have “benefited” from being “introduced to suitable candidates” for marriage – and that Princess Diana’s marriage to Charles was “essentially arranged”.
Khan’s new film What’s Love Got To Do With It is her version of “rom-com Pakistan” – inspired by events in her own life, during her 10 years living in Lahore married to ex-husband and former prime minister Imran Khan.
The film centres around the protagonist Zoe – a filmmaker played by actress Lily James – as she navigates the modern dating world, parallel to her neighbour and childhood friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) as he pursues an arranged marriage with a bride from Pakistan.
The story explores “the pros and cons of both styles” – dating, and “whether it’s too much choice with apps”, or, conversely, “too little choice with arranged marriage”.
One motivation for the film was Jemima Khan’s friend Princess Diana.
The socialite – daughter of billionaire Sir James Goldsmith and sister of Conservative peer and government minister Zac Goldsmith – maintained a close friendship with Princess Diana, who visited her twice while she was living in Pakistan.
It was this relationship, Khan told Sky News, that showed her just how universal this style of marriage was cross-culturally.
Talking about King Charles and Princess Diana, Khan said: “Their marriage was essentially arranged.
“It used to happen here, even with our Royal Family.
“I know it can often seem like a really alien concept but most marriages even in the world today are arranged if you look at the global population.
“It wasn’t so long ago that it was kind of the norm even in the UK.”
Khan’s film attempts to dispel the myths surrounding arranged marriages, which she says are often categorised into a “love marriage good” versus “arranged marriage bad” binary.
“There’s a real issue where arranged marriage keeps getting conflated with forced marriage,” Khan said.
Before moving to Pakistan, she thought they were “quite a standard, fairly negative idea about arranged marriage, and how it fits into the modern world”.
However, upon relocating aged 21, she saw arranged marriages “up close” and changed her mind.
Khan says she saw “very successful and happy arranged marriages” – but, to her surprise, the same narrative was not reflected in popular culture.
Her debut feature film, therefore, is a “celebration of Pakistan… outside of dark politics. The joyful, colourful, hospitable, fun place that I know is part of Pakistani life”, she said.
Khan told Sky News that producing the film – which has been over a decade in the making – has forced her to reflect on her own life experiences and choices.
“As I get older, I think, if I had parents who could have agreed – and were functional and good at these things – I definitely could have benefited from being introduced to suitable candidates.”
The 49-year-old added that this would be in the “new incarnation” of arranged marriage – which she, and by extension through the character Kazim, explore as “assisted marriage”.
This, Khan explains, “is basically an introduction of someone suitable and the couple then decide”.
The film, both implicitly and explicitly, challenges the very “real issue” of Islamophobia in film and TV.
Khan told Sky News that television where “Muslims are the good guys” is rare to come by.
“It’s always the Pakistani who’s the terrorist or the suicide bomber, or the fanatic.
“There’s that particular line (in the film)… We’ve got to leave the airport… we have to leave early because I need to leave time to be randomly selected.
“I’m aware from experience of travelling with my kids, particularly to America where we have to leave extra time in between any flight connections because they have Pakistani names that are not Anglicised – Sulaiman and Kasim Khan – they do get taken off and questioned in a way that I don’t.
“It’s hard to make a film where Muslims are the good guys in America… where they’re much more familiar with Muslims playing the baddies. Islamophobia I think is a real issue. I think it’s every bit as big an issue as racism.”
The film is Khan’s personal homage to a culture – and its people – she says helped raise her.
What’s Love Got To Do With It will be released in UK cinemas on Friday 24 February.