Unexpected political spotlight on The Big Sick
But leading man Kumail Nanjiani says film is 'just a love story'
When Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani and his American wife, Emily Gordon, wrote a film about the surreal circumstances that brought them together, little did they expect that their love story would be put under a political spotlight.
Opening here tomorrow, The Big Sick explores Nanjiani's cultural conflict as a Muslim comedian in post-9/11 America.
His life is further complicated when he falls in love with Gordon, played by Zoe Kazan, and goes against his family's wishes that he marry a Pakistani woman.
The film is "coming out at a time when there is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, a lot of Islamophobia", Nanjiani said.
Nanjiani, who is the first Pakistani leading man in a Hollywood romantic comedy, added: "By depicting a Muslim family as normal people, that is its big political statement."
The Big Sick arrives after United States President Donald Trump's call during his election campaign last year for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US".
Nanjiani, 39, who is best known for playing snarky programmer Dinesh in the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, and Gordon said they did not predict that the film would wade into a hot-button issue.
"It obviously feels so weirdly timely, but it also does have this expectation on it that it was not built for," Nanjiani said.
"Really, it is just a love story."
In The Big Sick, Nanjiani's family struggle with his decision to pursue comedy as they try to arrange a suitable marriage, while he secretly dates the smart and nerdy Gordon.
Nanjiani's world is upended when she falls into a coma with an undiagnosed illness, and he keeps a bedside vigil alongside her parents.
Judd Apatow, the film's producer, said: "I think Kumail is trying to show how similar their lives are to people who already live here in some respects.
"They are looking for love, they are trying to be happy, and they are also dealing with their culture."
In one scene, Nanjiani is heckled during his stand-up comedy routine by a man calling him a terrorist.
In another, Ray Romano, who plays Gordon's father, asks Nanjiani about his stance on the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
"Anti. It was a tragedy," Nanjiani said, before quipping, "I mean, we lost 19 of our best guys."
The Big Sick arrives as Hollywood films such as Get Out and Wonder Woman are starting to break the white, male-dominated movie mould and show that audiences will pay to see films with minority leads.
"It is important for kids to see themselves in the stuff they watch. But more than that, it is important that people from different points of view are behind the camera telling the stories, writing them, directing them," Nanjiani said. - REUTERS