‘The Big Sick" is romantic comedy written by Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The story is loosely inspired by their own love story and follows the journey between their namesake characters Kumail and Emily who come face to face with the realities of being an inter-ethnic relationship. While the film does highlight the reality of falling in love with someone outside of your community, we need to discuss how Nanjiani chose to write the Pakistani women in the story and the blatant misogyny in the idea that Pakistani men must “settle” for Pakistani women.
Throughout the movie, Nanjiani receives multiple ‘rishtas’ or proposals from Pakistani women found by his mother, as is normal for arranged marriages. Woman after woman is rejected because he is already dating someone else, a white woman at that, something he obviously can’t reveal to his parents. However, what caught my eye was the fact that every woman proposed to him seemed to be presented as desperate to get married, obsessed with him and "weird’’. South Asian women, and even more so Pakistani women, barely get enough representation as it is with all forms of media rushing to portray us as Islamically oppressed with no agency of our own. This is not even accounting for the Eurocentric beauty standards that remain pervasive in our communities that dictate our self-worth from a very young age. Therefore, it was extremely discouraging to see a movie written by a Pakistani man, choosing to place the Pakistani women in his story as a comedic plot device.
Regardless of the exact country, South Asian women are also very familiar with the double standards between sons and daughters in the same house. Sons are allowed to make mistakes before they get married and are almost expected to “have some fun” before they get married and settle down “with a nice Pakistani girl”. Whether this is a left-over colonial hang up, or the result of an increasingly connected and globalised society, there is this inescapable idea that the love and acceptance of white women is regarded as the highest honour a South Asian man can receive. Resulting in the women from their own communities feeling as though they are a backup and are to be at the beck and call of these men should they fail in their quest. This is the exact idea that was blatantly obvious in this movie. Nanjiani would be out daily picking up “American” women in bars, with absolutely no intention of dating them seriously with the threat of being disowned hanging over his head. This is then further emphasised after a confrontation with Emily later on in the movie when she discovers that his parents have been having him meet Pakistani women behind her back with the intention of marrying them. And this is not a criticism of Emily, or white women in general, who often are given the short end of the stick by dating men like this for months or even years, duped into believing that they will be accepted by their boyfriend’s families and/or that he will fight for her. Once again, Nanjiani has chosen to portray Pakistani women having no agency of their own, with their sole desire being to marry. Not only this, but Pakistani women in this context are undeservedly regarded as less desirable, lame and boring compared to white women. The romance in this story is also not framed as a man choosing to date someone who just happens to be white, the implication seems to be to choose to date anyone who is not Pakistani.
Even though this movie is very much inspired by real-life events, it was not an exact retelling of how the events unfolded and it allowed the filmmakers an opportunity to take some creative license on how best to tell the story. However, when the ball was in our community’s court for a change, instead of choosing to uplift it, Kumail Nanjiani chose to perpetuate harmful and misogynistic stereotypes of Pakistani women – and it is for this reason I found this movie profoundly disappointing.
‘The Big Sick’ is available to watch on Amazon prime and Netflix (may vary depending on your location)