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:

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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…
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…

Habib Paracha — one of the few Hollywood producers from Pakistan

Habib Paracha is one of the few producers from Pakistan who is representing the country in Hollywood. His advent into production happened by chance but he is fast making a name for himself with productions starring Nicolas Cage, Elijad Wood and Margot Robbie.

Speaking about his journey Paracha said, “Around four years ago, I was in the US when a few of my friends asked me to meet some people in Los Angeles as they thought I’d be a good fit in the film/ production industry.”

After his debut as executive producer for The Trust in 2016 starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood, Paracha’s Terminal released in the United States on May 11.

An avid movie aficionado since his early years Paracha says watching movies is still one of his favourite pastimes today.

The Finance and Operations Management major told that he did not have any experience in the film industry before Nicolas Cage starrer The Trust.

However, after making a name for himself in Hollywood so quickly, he says the number of scripts coming his way have also multiplied.

“I think with two completed titles and two more currently in the works I’m one of the bigger Pakistani producers in Hollywood.”

Although he worked with the same people for his first two projects (The Trust and Terminal) in the US film industry, Paracha shared that he is working with different people for his next two projects.

Currently, Paracha is working on two upcoming Hollywood movies, The Last Full Measure starring Samuel L Jackson and Ed Harris expected to release later this year and Strive slated for release in 2019.

Besides film production, Paracha is an industrialist, entrepreneur and food connoisseur with business ventures in Pakistan and abroad. He told he divides his time 50:50 between Pakistan and America.

"When I’m in Pakistan my focus is largely on the businesses here and any new ventures which I may pursue. When I’m abroad I focus on films," he said.

Shifting focus to the recently released Terminal which was directed by Vaughn Stein and features performances by Margot Robbie, Mike Myers and Simon Pegg, Paracha said, "I got involved [with Terminal] in 2016 over a lunch with Margot Robbie and Tom Ackerley in LA. Subsequently I flew to Budapest in June 2016 and spent a few days on set working with the director, cast and crew. It has been a passion project because the cast involved has been so great."

Terminal follows the twisting tales of two assassins carrying out a sinister mission, a teacher battling a fatal illness, an enigmatic janitor and a curious waitress leading a dangerous double life. Murderous consequences unravel in the dead of night as their lives all intertwine at the hands of a mysterious criminal mastermind hell-bent on revenge.

Paracha attended the world premiere of the film in the US last week and the film is set to premiere in the United Kingdom in the last week of June.

On which of his films he is more proud of, Paracha said, “Of the two that are completed Terminal is one that I’m particularly proud of. It’s the way the film has turned out. From the lighting to the effects and the chemistry of the cast on screen.”

Delving into details regarding his upcoming projects, he revealed, "Terminal and The Trust are both based on fiction but the next project The Last Full Measure is based on a true story so I’m really excited about that and I feel it will really connect with audiences.”

When asked if he would be venturing into the Pakistani film industry, Paracha said, “I am looking to do projects in Pakistan but I have not set a fixed timeline for them as yet. I am using my current opportunity to learn as much about the process so that I’m better trained and able to leverage the skills into production in Pakistan.”

The Hollywood producer advised all Pakistanis, in every field, film and otherwise, to work diligently and honestly for what they want to achieve.
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.”

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