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

8 comments:

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.

http://www.gapminder.org/tools/#_locale_id=en;&state_marker_select@_geo=pak&trailStartTime=2015;;;;&chart-type=bubbles

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.


http://www.riazhaq.com/2012/07/global-power-shift-since-industrial.html

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.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40449054/a-pakistani-designer-created-a-game-that-teaches-girls-how-to-avoid-arranged-marriage

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]
BY ADELE PETERS3 MINUTE READ
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.