Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Big Sick Movie: A Self-Portrait of Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani

The Big Sick, a cross-culture romantic comedy based on actual events,  breaks new ground by casting a brown-skinned Pakistani-American in a lead role in a movie produced and widely screened in the United States. Acquired by Amazon Studios for $12 million after a bidding war at Sundance film festival, the film has already grossed over $25 million so far.

“The Big Sick” is based on the life of  HBO's "Silicon Valley" star Kumail Nanjiani, 39, who plays himself.  A Pakistani American man, a part-time Uber driver struggling to succeed as a stand-up comic in Chicago, Kumail notices a heckler named Emily (Zoe Kazan), during one of his performances. Thus begins a relationship characterized by a series of emotional highs and lows with a lot of laughter in between.

Co-written with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the romantic comedy (romcom) is a somewhat fictionalized account of the first year of their relationship, when a sudden medical crisis forces her to be put in a medically-induced coma for several days.

Kumail meets Emily's parents when they come to Chicago to care for their daughter in hospital. After some initial hesitation, Emily's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) hit it off with Kumail. When Emily's father asks Nanjiani what he thought of the 911, the comedian responds: "It was tragic. We lost 19 of our best men" and then smiles, thus breaking the ice between the two.

Nanjiani says that "I feel more Pakistani than I have in the last 10 years". "I feel way more defined by my ethnicity now," Nanjiani says. "If there's an ethnicity that is maligned and attacked and demonized ... I'm with you. I stand with you. Because it's unavoidable that people are seeing me a certain way, I kind of want to own it. I feel more Pakistani than I have in the last 10 years", he told USA Today.

Kumail has interspersed the movie with a running presentation on his country of birth that shows him singing the first few lines of Pakistan's national anthem out loud. Nanjiani also brings out his love of cricket and the fact that Pakistan has the world's largest contiguous farm irrigation system.

While Nanjiani repeatedly acknowledges his Pakistani-American identity, he's less certain about his religious identity. Brought up as a Shia Muslim, he even makes fun of the fact that his people still mourn the killings in the battle of Karbala that occurred 1400 years ago. Kumail tells his father (played by Anupam Kher) that he doesn't know what he believes.

The story line of The Big Sick is partly about Nanjiani’s refusal to accept an arranged marriage that his parents wished for him. It is a reasonable position but the way he does so demeans the Pakistani-American women who are introduced to him by his parents.

Kumail lacks the courage to tell his parents upfront that he wants no part of an arranged marriage, allowing the Pakistani-American women suitors to suffer the indignity of being paraded in front of him.  The movie stereotypes these Pakistani-American women who are forced to speak in fake foreign accents even though they have lived in the US longer than Pakistan-born Kumail has.

Overall, it's fun to watch The Big Sick as a ground-breaking cross-culture romantic comedy with a Pakistani-American male lead.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

HBO Comedy "Silicon Valley" Stars Pakistani-American

Pakistanis Make Up Largest Foreign-Born Muslim Group in Silicon Valley

Karachi to Hollywood: Triple Oscar Winning Pakistani-American

Burka Avenger: Pakistani Female Superhero 

Burka Avenger  Videos on Vimeo Channel

Pakistani-American Ashar Aziz's Fireeye Goes Public

Pakistani-American Shahid Khan Richest South Asian in America

Two Pakistani-American Silicon Valley Techs Among Top 5 VC Deals

Pakistani-American's Game-Changing Vision 

Minorities Are Majority in Silicon Valley 

Pakistani-American Population Growth Second Fastest Among Asian-Americans

Edible Arrangements: Pakistani-American's Success Story

Pakistani-American Elected Mayor

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan


Ahmed F. said...

Thanks for sharing. Glad the movie is making money.

The review was more interesting than the movie which was a real pain to watch for me. In fact, as I walked out of the theater at the end, I distinctly recall thinking that this was the worst movie I ever saw.

The comment below is exceptionally telling. It's a two-in-one tribute to the British Raj (and to Macaulay). Ditto for the railroad network. Blame them all you will, Pakistan would be a much lesser country if the British had not ruled over it for 90+ years.

Salman Q. said...

A good brief and looks interesting but painting Pakistani-American women the way you have described is something not very appealing , they don't deserve this unrealistic fun made out of them.My opinion.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: "The comment below is exceptionally telling. It's a two-in-one tribute to the British Raj (and to Macaulay). Ditto for the railroad network. Blame them all you will, Pakistan would be a much lesser country if the British had not ruled over it for 90+ years. "

Cricket yes. It's a British Raj legacy

World's largest Irrigation systems..No, it's not.

Most of Pakistan's current irrigation system was built during 1960s green revolution that feeds 2/3rd of all farmland in Pakistan...far more than than 1/3rd in India

That's why poor monsoons don't hurt Pakistan as much as they do India leading to 20,000 Indian farmer suicides each year

As to Pakistan being a lesser country without the British Raj, one only need look at the socioeconomic indicators such as per capita income and life expectancy that remained static during the British Raj and rose dramatically after independence in 1947, as shown by Swedish Prof Hans Rosliing's Gapminder.org animations.


Anonymous said...

Pakistan would be a much lesser country if the British had not ruled over it for 90+ years.

Really! Greater India/South Asia including Pakistan was an Apex civilization for something like 90% of all human history.

I think we would have done well if we weren't colonized as Gandhi said'There are no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government over a good government of a foreign power'.

Not that British Raj with famines that cumulatively killed 50 mn + and paupaurized the subcontinent is in any way a good government.

This is what happens when you do not have your own higher education boards but follow Cambridge high school curriculum!Basics anyone!

Ahmed F. said...

I was convinced that I would get a proof on how cricket was invented in the subcontinent and stolen by the British back to England.

Riaz Haq said...

Ahmad: "I was convinced that I would get a proof on how cricket was invented in the subcontinent and stolen by the British back to England."

The Brits stole a lot from India but cricket is not on this list.

When the Brits arrived, India under Mughals produced over a quarter of the world GDP, higher than the 22% US produces now.
When the Brits left in 1947, India+Pakistan GDP dropped to less than 2% of the world GDP.


Anonymous said...

"Greater India/South Asia including Pakistan was an Apex civilization for something like 90% of all human history."

Really? I was reading the list of 10 innovations of India, it included Ludu and snake/ladder board. Thousands of years of history and ludu is one of the biggest inventions?
Not sure if you can call that "Apex civilization".

G. Ali

Riaz Haq said...

A Pakistani Designer Created A Game To Teach Girls How To Avoid Unwanted Arranged Marriages
Nashra Balagamwala went to RISD instead of participating in an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Now she wants to playfully teach others how to follow her path.


In the game, “Arranged!,” which is funding on Kickstarter, players take the part of a girl trying to creatively avoid a matchmaker and to marry for love instead. [Photo: courtesy Nashra Balagamwala]

1/5 n the game, “Arranged!,” which is funding on Kickstarter, players take the part of a girl trying to creatively avoid a matchmaker and to marry for love instead. [Photo: courtesy Nashra Balagamwala]
At the age of 19, Nashra Balagamwala made the choice to defy her family: Instead of entering into an arranged marriage in Pakistan, she would go to college in the United States. Five years later, with her student visa set to expire, she’s headed home and trying to avoid the still looming marriage by designing a board game.

In the game, “Arranged!,” which is funding on Kickstarter, players take the part of a girl trying to creatively avoid a matchmaker and to marry for love instead. Balagamwala hopes to raise enough money through the game that if she’s soon being forced to get married by her family, she can fly out of Pakistan; making a product also makes her eligible for a particular type of U.S. visa. (The O-1 visa for workers with “extraordinary abilities,” which includes a subcategory for artists, could be easier for some people to get than the HB-1 visa, which uses a lottery system; of course, it could be still be hard to get in the current political climate, particularly for a Pakistani Muslim, and a Kickstarter project may not be enough). She’s also hoping that the game can help other young Pakistani women realize they have more options.

“Sometimes they would meet the person and be married to him within the week.” [Photo: courtesy Nashra Balagamwala]
When she left Pakistan to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, “It was really not well received by my family at all,” she says. “Basically, the expectation is that by the time you’re approximately 20, you’ll be a housewife, you’ll have children. There’s no such idea of going to college or finding your own man to marry. I was always extremely baffled by that.”

“Generally I’m a pretty playful person…so I decided to mask the seriousness of the topic by making it into a lighthearted board game.” [Photo: courtesy Nashra Balagamwala]
While in school, she saw friends back in Pakistan get married to strangers. “Sometimes they would meet the person and be married to him within the week,” she says. “A lot of them accepted it as their fate. They didn’t seem to fight it. I think a big reason why they were doing that was that they weren’t educated enough, so even if they decided to run away from it, they wouldn’t be able to provide for themselves…I see them now, and they’re all just stuck in loveless marriages dealing with horrible in-laws, horrible husbands, and there isn’t much they can do about it.”
Each time she returned for visits, she was also scouted by matchmakers hoping to marry her off. But Balagamwala found ways to avoid them–making sure she was seen with male friends, for example, or getting a tan, since darker skin made her seem less desirable in Pakistani culture.

Riaz Haq said...

"An informed racist is a better racist" - a typically brilliant and hilarious #SNL opening monologue from @kumailn


In his monologue, this week’s host, Kumail Nanjiani—star of Silicon Valley and The Big Sick—tackled some of the more disturbing cultural trends tied to the racism he’s experienced first-hand.

“Islamophobia is on the rise. It’s like Will & Grace,” Nanjiani joked in reference to the sitcom making a return on S.N.L.’s home network. “It was huge awhile ago, we thought it was gone and done forever and now it’s back! Thursday night on NBC. . .they made me say that.”

“Inaccuracies,” Najiani continued, “That’s what bugs me.” The Pakistani-born comedian enumerated all the times he’s been told to “go back to India.” If someone bothered to tell him to go back to Pakistan, he claimed, “I’d pack my bags.”

“An informed racist,” Nanjiani concluded, “is a better racist.”


Riaz Haq said...

Five Pakistanis Who Have Taken Hollywood by Storm


1) Kumail Nanjiani
From stand-up comedian to actor, Kumail has already got a few designations under his belt.
The Silicon Valley star took it to the next level and carved more than a mark by writing and acting in The Big Sick – a biographical account of his love story with his (now wife) Emily Gordon. He recently appeared on SNL too – and man, what a speech!
If that wasn’t enough, he will be starring alongside professional wrestler John Cena in his next venture. What more could you want?
2) Faran Tahir
Son of veteran Pakistani actor Naeem Tahir, Faran may not be considered a household name yet but he is definitely familiar to millions around the world. You may recognize him as Raza in Iron Man (2008) or Captain Robau in Star Trek (2009).
The international artist has been a Hollywood insider for over 25 years now and has guest starred in many TV series and films. His debut appearance was in Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1994 as Mowgli’s father. You can currently watch him in the hit American TV Series Scandal.

3) Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy
Named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, this charmer needs no introduction. She’s earned a couple of Oscars and six Emmys for her work as an activist and film-maker, shedding light on profound issues surrounding women inequality.
She is all set to add another feather to her cap as she recently announced her next project, Look But With Love – Pakistan’s very own reality film series directed by herself.

4) Sameer Asad Gardezi
You can thank this man for the hysterical one-liners in the Emmy-winning hit series, The Modern Family.
The Pakistani-American screenwriter has worked for many big networks including Universal, Nickelodeon and ABC, and is also the recipient of the Writers Guild award for his exceptional writing skills. Sameer is currently writing for his next project, The Goodwin Games.

5) Dilshad Vadsaria
Troublemaker Rebecca Logan in the much-admired TV show Greek, is played by Pakistani actor Dilshad Vadvaria. The Karachi born star was also part of the regular cast of hit TV series, Revenge. Way to go girl!

Riaz Haq said...

#NewYork #Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Selects #Karachi-born #Pakistani-#American Artist Huma Bhaba for Roof Garden Commission


The art installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is always a much-anticipated rite of spring.

This year, the Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha has been selected to create a site-specific work for the roof garden, the sixth in a series of commissions for the outdoor space, which will be on view from April 17 through Oct. 28.

“Huma Bhabha’s work is powerful and arresting, informed by a deep and sophisticated engagement with art history, architectural space, an interest in popular iconographies and keenly responsive to political narratives, both historic and current,” said Shanay Jhaveri, an assistant curator of South Asian art at the Met, “which makes her the right artist at this time for the commission.”

For the multipart installation, “We Come in Peace,” Ms. Bhabha has “choreographed a dramatic mise en scene” of monumental sculptures, Mr. Jhaveri said.

Born in 1962 in Karachi, Ms. Bhabha lives and works in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Using found materials and everyday detritus, the artist explores themes of colonialism, war and displacement.

“The Met’s encyclopedic collection is the perfect stage for Huma’s new works, which are embedded and infused with thousands of years of art historical references and cultural traditions,” said Alissa Friedman, a partner and director of Salon 94, which represents Ms. Bhabha. “With New York City as her theater in the round, her sculptures are anchored in both the present and the past.”

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistani filmmaker is Hollywood’s youngest producer


After having already served as the executive producer of the Nicholas Cage and Elijah Wood starrer – ‘The Trust’ and now with ‘The Terminal’, slated for release in late 2017 starring the incredibly talented Margot Robbie in post-production, Habib Paracha bears the title of the youngest Pakistani Hollywood producer.

Habib Paracha is an industrialist, food connoisseur and has most recently added the film producer feather to his cap. Having titled himself a global citizen, Paracha says he is an entrepreneur first. Having his work lauded by many contemporaries in Hollywood, notably his friends James Maslow, Eric Roberts and one of his dear mentors Quincy Jones, Paracha’s journey into filmmaking started off as an experiment and he has been honing it ever since. Having established his footing as a capable and robust new addition to the Hollywood scene, Habib has now set his sights on showcasing Pakistan to his western counterparts.

“I love Pakistan. Pakistan will always be home. I want to showcase my country in all its grandeur to the wider global audience because Pakistan has so much untapped potential which is not available for the world to see. I want to be one of those individuals who make it happen.”

Habib Paracha spends his time between the States and Pakistan and is an alumnus of the esteemed Karachi Grammar School, and Boston University – Habib has most recently launched his new Thai-fusion themed restaurant – ‘Pan Asia’, in Karachi.

Riaz Haq said...

Maria Qamar Dishes Up Desi Pop in 'Trust No Aunty'


Aunties, beware — Maria Qamar's got your number.

If you think the new wave of South Asian humor is led by men — from The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani to Master of None's Aziz Ansari to No Man's Land's Aasif Mandvi — it's time to reckon with women like Qamar. With Trust No Aunty, her new book of Pop Art and satire, the 26-year-old Pakistani Canadian brings the experience of desi girls into the comedy limelight.

And if you know Hatecopy, Qamar's Instagram feed, you've already seen her take on the irritation of getting set up with the neighbors' eligible son, or seeing white girls sporting bindis at Coachella. If, on the other hand, you're wondering what "desi" means, Qamar has the answer — along with advice on how to dodge a chappal, shape the perfect roti and cope with the meddling older women in your life. "An aunty is any older woman who thinks she knows what's best for you," Qamar tells me. "She can be someone in your family, or one of their friends, or just someone who lives down the street. My mom's family is huge, so I have a million aunties. They've always got advice, and you think, 'Well, this person is my mom's age, so she must be right. She's helping reinforce tradition.' But some aunties give bad advice, like telling girls to marry at 15 or to bleach their skin. We need to discuss these things in the community.

You classify aunties into various types — there's the CEO Aunty, the Bollywood Aunty, and the Aunty in Training. What's your favorite kind of aunty?

The Soft Aunty. That's what my mom is. She used to be a Bollywood Aunty. She was always having dramatic reactions to things, and she'd quote dialogue from movies to express her feelings. We kids would be like, "Uh, we saw those movies too — we know where you're getting that from." But now she's more laid back. She's learning to accept things more. And I love her home cooked meals. I love my Mom.

Riaz Haq said...

(Pakistani-American) Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett Named Co-Anchors of PBS NewsHour
Nawaz and Bennett to Succeed Judy Woodruff on Monday, January 2, 2023


"Today is a day I never could’ve imagined when I began my journalism career years ago, or while growing up as a first-generation, Muslim, Pakistani-American. I’m grateful, humbled, and excited for what’s ahead.”

Sharon Rockefeller, President and CEO of WETA and President of NewsHour Productions, today named PBS NewsHour chief correspondent Amna Nawaz and chief Washington correspondent and PBS News Weekend anchor Geoff Bennett co-anchors of the nightly newscast. The PBS NewsHour, co-anchored by Nawaz and Bennett, will launch on Monday, January 2, 2023. Nawaz and Bennett succeed Judy Woodruff, who has solo-anchored PBS’s nightly news broadcast since 2016, prior to which she co-anchored it alongside the late Gwen Ifill.

Bennett has reported from the White House under three presidents and has covered five presidential elections. He joined NewsHour in 2022 from NBC News, where he was a White House correspondent and substitute anchor for MSNBC. In his prior experience, he worked for NPR — beginning as an editor for Weekend Edition and later as a reporter covering Congress and the White House. An Edward R. Murrow Award recipient, Bennett began his journalism career at ABC News’ World News Tonight.

On being named co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, Geoff Bennett said, “I’m proud to work with such a stellar group of journalists in pursuit of a shared mission — providing reliable reporting, solid storytelling and sharp analysis of the most important issues of the day. It’s why PBS NewsHour is one of television’s most trusted and respected news programs and why I’m honored and excited to partner with Amna in building on its rich legacy.”

Nawaz, who has received Peabody Awards for her reporting at NewsHour on January 6, 2021 and global plastic pollution, has served as NewsHour’s primary substitute anchor since she joined the NewsHour in 2018. She previously was an anchor and correspondent at ABC News, anchoring breaking news coverage and leading the network’s livestream coverage of the 2016 presidential election. Before that, she served as foreign correspondent and Islamabad Bureau Chief at NBC News. She is also the founder and former managing editor of NBC’s Asian America platform, and began her journalism career at ABC News Nightline just weeks before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

On being named co-anchor, Amna Nawaz added, “It’s never been more important for people to have access to news and information they trust, and the entire NewsHour team strives relentlessly towards that goal every day. I am honored to be part of this mission, to work with colleagues I admire and adore, and to take on this new role alongside Geoff as we help write the next chapter in NewsHour’s story. Today is a day I never could’ve imagined when I began my journalism career years ago, or while growing up as a first-generation, Muslim, Pakistani-American. I’m grateful, humbled, and excited for what’s ahead.”

In making the announcement, Rockefeller noted, “PBS NewsHour continues to be dedicated to excellence in journalism. Amna and Geoff bring to their new positions three essential qualities for the role – accomplished careers in substantive reporting, dedication to the purpose of journalism to illuminate and inform, and a deep respect for our audiences and the mission of public media.”