Jemima Khan
Jemima Goldsmith Image Credit: Supplied

British screenwriter and producer Jemima Goldsmith, who was married to Pakistani cricketer and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in her early twenties, got acquainted with the idea of arranged marriages during her life in Lahore.

Their cross-cultural marriage in 1995 may have ended in divorce nine years later, but the idea of orchestrated unions -- where doting parents and family elders handpick whom their children eventually marry – stuck with her.

So much so that this social practice of family members playing marital matchmaker – mighty common in the Indian subcontinent and something that she was given the ringside view during her life in Pakistan – forms the spine of her latest romantic comedy ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’, out in UAE cinemas tomorrow.

British producer and screenwriter of 'What's Love Got To Do With It?'
British producer and screenwriter of 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' Image Credit: Supplied

Directed by Shekhar Kapur of ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Bandit Queen’ fame, Jemima has written the screenplay for this romantic comedy that chronicles Zoe (Lily James) -- a documentary filmmaker’s quest to record her close Pakistani pal and neighbour’s (Shazad Latif) decision to marry a young girl (Sajal Aly) chosen by his parents. But it’s not her love story, maintains Jemima who was wearing an emerald green sweater and sipping a hot beverage in her wood-paneled study in the UK during this sit-down virtual interview.

“This script came out of an idea I had ten years ago after I came back from having lived in Pakistan. I reflected on my experience of seeing successful arranged marriages up close in my ex-husband’s family – which was pretty conservative. Ours was the only non-arranged marriage in the family … After coming back to the UK, I even joked to my friends that I would arrange their marriages,” said Jemima in an interview over zoom with Gulf News.

Apparently, watching her single friends in the UK struggle to find solid mates and their multiple dating disasters with obnoxious candidates made her think about the efficacy and efficiency behind assisted marriages, which she had brokered back in Pakistan.

“I was 30 when I came back to the UK and a lot of my friends were wanting to have kids and settle down. But they were finding it quite difficult. So it started as a joke among us about who their parents would have chosen and whether it would have worked … Let me arrange your marriage, I said, and I became a bit megalomaniacal because I got so involved in that selection process,” said Jemima. She even found herself on the bride/groom selecting committee filtering out seemingly unworthy candidates back in Pakistan.

“So this idea sprang in my mind about what would have happened if someone like me, had not gone to Pakistan when I was 21 … This is not my story but I wondered what would have happened if someone like me had an arranged marriage … I wondered at what point would you accept an arranged marriage. How much heartache and how many frogs do you have to kiss to get to the point where you go - ‘I messed up, so parents, now you have a go’,” said Jemima with a laugh.

A still from 'What's Love Got To Do With It?'
A still from 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' Image Credit: Supplied

While the idea of arranged marriages with social and familial sanction may sound exotic and alluring, there’s a huge section who believe that this age-old, time-tested practice in this modern world of dating apps is regressive. But Jemima,49,  jumps in with: “I think there’s a real big difference between a forced marriage and an assisted marriage.”

“Forced marriage is the other end of the spectrum and really has no place in this in the modern world. Whereas assisted marriage is where you are basically set up by the person, the people who know you best and who hopefully love you the most. It’s not that different from your friends setting you up with their friends … Also, nowadays a random algorithm sets you up. So, you are better off being set up by your parents,” said Jemima, an experienced journalist who has worked with a raft of glossy magazines.

Incidentally, Jemima – who has reportedly dated and shared close ties with actor Hugh Grant and comedian Russel Brand – is also a sucker for romantic comedies. She grew up on a staple of Hollywood’s mushy classics like ‘When Harry Met Sally’.

“My life has been ruined by romantic comedies. My whole life has been destroyed and that goes for all my friends too. We have got this ridiculous expectation of being completed by another human being. We have this illusion of love at first sight and this expectation of mythical, magical love which is unrealistic,” said Jemima.

So she has the perfect remedy up her sleeve: concoct a romantic comedy laced with pragmatism. ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’, which enjoyed its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and was the toast of other notable film fests including the recent Red Sea Film Fest at Jeddah, hopes to be a departure from the syrupy rom-coms that are cloyingly saccharine.

She gravitated towards acclaimed director Kapur because she felt that he would bring the right balance of tenderness and tautness.

Jemima Goldsmith and Shekhar Kapur
Jemima Goldsmith and Shekhar Kapur Image Credit: Supplied

“Our rom-com is more pragmatic and has adopted the simmer-than-boil approach … I am both an incurable romantic and an incurable cynic – all rolled into one. And hence, I have written this film,” said Jemima.

While Jemima’s public persona is of a globe-trotting, glamorous socialite, hunkering down to write a script does not somehow fit in. So was writing tough for her?

“Writing the screenplay was hard as nails. That’s why I took ten years to get to this point. ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ was a real labour love. This film is a non-judgmental look at an imperfect world.”

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'What's Love Got To Do With It?' is out in UAE cinemas on February 2