The release of Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Big Sick” happened last month, and though I haven’t seen the film, I did catch the trailer on various online sites.
The scene with Kumail’s character and the prospective Pakistani bride, Zubeida, rang a bell. Where had I seen that kind of scene before, with a desi guy helplessly in love with a white girl but forced by his family to look at or consider Pakistani/Indian women who dress in shalwar kameez, are hopelessly culturally out of tune, or just plain ugly?
Oh yeah, every single movie about a desi guy falling in love with a white chick.
I had a conversation on Twitter with Kumail about this, and he urged me to watch the film. “It looks like that in the trailer, but I promise we’ve portrayed arranged marriage as a valid way to get married. And the characters are all well-developed.”
I promised him I would watch the movie, and I do hope it is as he has promised me. However, this does sting a little bit.
Here are the “ugly daughters” from the popular British movie “East is East”
Here’s Aasif Mandvi perusing unsuitable Indian brides in “Today’s Special”
It’s only maybe in the last ten or fifteen years that we’ve started to see movies made about the desi experience in America. (Britain had its wave with films based on Hanif Kureishi’s books and a bit of Ayub Khan Din but seem to only like Indians when they’re in period films, Victoria and Abdul being the latest example. Their soap operas are better in this respect).
But the movies that get a wide audience (relatively speaking) are always told from a man’s point of view. And without exception they involve a desi guy falling in love with a white woman. This happens in real life, let’s be realistic. The desi population in North America is small, relatively speaking. If you’re living outside major cities, you’re unlikely to find that many desi women to date or fall in love with.
Theek hai, the cultural clash story with the desi guy rejecting his family’s choice for his own choice is a valid story. We’ve all been there and done that. But do they have to take out all their resentment on the hapless desi woman who is probably just as reluctant to marry the desi guy? Do they have to portray them as ugly, stupid, or inbred to validate their own choices? Do they have to show the desi guy with an endless array of nameless, sad desi women to choose from like sushi on a conveyer belt?
What’s more, I am still waiting for the modern film that portrays a desi woman’s love story from her point of view. The last one we had was 30 years ago, with Mira Nair’s groudbreaking Mississippi Masala. Granted, Sarita Chaudhry ended up with Denzel Washington, which, as Thomas Meixner said “is worth at least ten years” (and about 10,000 desi dudes who all look like Aziz Ansari).
But we need more. Oddly, desi women are taking up the challenge in lesbian film, like Fawzia Mirza with her film “Signature Move”.
Desi women need to make more films. That’s the only way we’ll see a desi woman’s love story. Who she chooses isn’t as important as the fact that she chooses, that the focus is on her life and her feelings. That she is seen as a fully-realized human, not a joke or a prop or a plot device on the path to the desi dude’s happy ending.
End of story.