She called Lahore home for over a decade and till today continues to carry a little bit of Pakistan in heart. ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ you might ask – everything, I would say. Jemima Goldsmith Khan is no stranger to Pakistan. The former Mrs. Khan who once served as the European Editor for Vanity Fair, and Associate Editor for The New Statesman, turned producer in 2015.
February 2023 saw the release of the first ever rom-com under the banner of Instinct Productions, her London-based content company specialising in television, documentaries and film.
A distinct shift from her earlier endeavours that include the likes of the well acclaimed 10-part FX drama series ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’, the docuseries ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’ and ‘The Clinton Affair’, and the feature documentary ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’; ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ is a cross cultural romance bringing together a mix of talent from east and west.
Witten by Jemima Khan and directed by Shekhar Kapoor, starring Lily James, Shazad Khan, Shabana Azmi and Sajal Aly among a host of others, the film essays the journey of an award-winning London based film-maker who documents her best friend’s journey into an assisted marriage in line with his family’s Pakistani heritage. In the process she challenges her own attitude towards relationships.
How, when and where did the concept of ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ come about, and what made for it to translate into an award-winning film?
JEMIMA KHAN: So the idea came about years and years ago – it took me a really long time to get to this point. I was working on other things – documentaries, through my company. And the idea came from wanting to make a rom-com for mainstream cinema in the west, that was a celebration of Pakistan and all things Pakistani, based on my experience there for 10 years between the ages of 20 and 30.
How in your view does the narrative of your film engage audiences and allow for them to connect with it?
JK: I can only hope that it entertains and that it touches people in some ways, and that it is relatable. But it’s not really for me to say.
From Emma Thompson to Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Kapur, from Sajal Aly to Shazad Latif and Lily James, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ brings together the best of talent from the east and west – tell us what it was like working with a team of creatives combining powerhouses from South Asia and the UK?
JK: I think that the best bit of the whole project was bringing together such incredible talent from east and west and seeing such incredible collaborations. Even for the music, we got to work with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and he made a song with British musicians – Naughty Boy who is British Pakistani, and Nitin Swahaney. And there was a rapper called Billy Khan on the track and Lily James did the music. And then you have Rahat singing and he also plays himself in the film in a Qawali scene. And I think that kind of sums up what the film is about, which is a great collaboration of talent from east and west and hopefully a fun watch.
Is the film in any way an ode to your years in Pakistan? Does it reflect first hand experiences or people you’ve met?
JK: It is definitely inspired by my time in Pakistan. Those 10 years were very formative for me. And I think living in Pakistan for 10 years had a profound effect on my life but it’s not a biopic.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you, like your sons, are half Pakistani, and on many an occasion you’ve been seen openly flaunting your love for your once home and its people (thank you for your generosity towards the flood affected communities). Is it safe to say you will always carry a little bit of Pakistan in your heart?
JK: Yes – is my short answer! I do. I feel as though I grew up in Pakistan. I was so unformed when I came there. I was in my second year at university and I came to Pakistan and I left a fully formed grown-up. And I think therefore, I’m probably quite different from who I would have been if I hadn’t had that experience. And I’m really different from a lot of people in my family and social circle because I’ve had that experience and that will always be the case, regardless of where I live now.
Are your children your sharpest critics or your biggest fans? What has been their feedback on ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’?
JK: Definitely my sharpest critics, definitely not my biggest fans. And their reaction was lovely. They really enjoyed the film although I was terrified to show them. Almost as scared as I was for it to open in Pakistan. But my children were lovely, and enjoyed it and seemed to laugh and cry, so I was happy.
How has the ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ journey changed Jemima Khan the person and the professional?
JK: That’s a good question, I don’t know how to answer. I think it’s a bit too early to say. I think you have to ask me when it’s all… settled down. For the moment I feel so in the midst of it all. I’ve been travelling across the country and the world. I haven’t really had a moment to sort of take it all in yet.
Is there another film in you waiting to happen or is the next cinematic venture still a fair bit away?
JK: I’m always making documentaries – that’s what I do in my day job and I’d really like to write something, but it takes me a really long time, so I will probably talk to you again in 2035 with my next venture.
What next for Jemima Khan?
JK: I will definitely work on a writing project, and we have Episode 5 of our Adnan Syed documentary about a miscarriage of justice in the United States where the victim was a Pakistani American boy who got jailed wrongly because of Islamophobia. And I have a few other things I’m working on, so yeah.
Your message to the people of Pakistan…
JK: I really hope you have enjoyed the film and that I’ve done you proud. And that my intention behind this project comes through in the making of it – which was to celebrate Pakistan and Pakistanis on a global stage.
My Urdu is so bad it’s embarrassing. I used to speak Urdu pretty well when I was there. But they say when you learn a new language as an adult you don’t retain it if you don’t keep speaking it. And I don’t have enough interaction, though my Urdu is still better than my children’s Urdu, I might add. I need to practise and get back to scratch again. But I can’t embarrass myself so can I just leave it with Pakistan Zindabad. Khuda Hafiz.
INTERVIEW: YUSRA ASKARI