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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 2:34 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 2:34 AM (IST)

Beyond borders

Oscar award-winning romcom The Big Sick looks at the cross-cultural dilemma that the immigrants find themselves in

Navnee Likhi

“Love is a fabric which never fades, no matter how often it is washed in water of adversity and grief.”— Robert Lee Fulghum, American author

American director Michael Showalter’s romantic comedy The Big Sick chronicles an unusual theme. It is based on the real-life courtship between American Pakistani actor Kumail Nanjiani and American graduate Emily V. Gordon. The story is set in Chicago where a young Pakistani stand-up comic actor Kumail Nanjiani is struggling to make a living by serving as Uber cab driver, besides pursuing his career as an actor. He begins to date a graduate American student Emily V. Gordon. However, Kumail’s conservative Shia parents want him to marry a Muslim girl. The Big Sick is a funny, touching film with cross-cultural appeal. The well-woven story resolves into a tale of mutual understanding and acceptance.

The film opens with a stand-up comedy act by Kumail Nanjiani. During one of his performances, Kumail gets heckled by young Emily, who is among the audience. Soon enough both enter into a relationship. 

Kumail’s devout Muslim family dotes on him and tries to set him up with a Pakistani woman. Kumail keeps photos of the girls shown to him in a cigar box. 

Meanwhile, Kumail continues to see Emily without his family being aware of it. On one of her visits to Kumail, Emily finds in his apartment the cigar box with the pictures of women his mother had tried to set him up with. When she questions him about it, he tells her about his family wanting him to go in for an arranged marriage. He also tells her that his family didn’t know about her because he is worried they will disown him. Emily feels hurt and gets angry. There’s a fight between the two. Kumail is caught between Pakistani and American identities. The movie looks at the cross cultural dilemma of the present-day generation.

After his breakup with Emily, Kumail performs again. Soon he gets a phone call from Jesse urging him to visit Emily, who had been admitted to hospital after she got  sick. Emily is not happy to see him. The doctor tells him that Emily had infection in her lungs and needed to be put on medically-induced coma. Kumail signs the form for Emily’s sake and informs her parents. 

Terry, Emily’s father is a nerdy down-to-earth man, whereas her mother, Beth, is a feisty, no-nonsense woman. She has an apparent dislike for Kumail for breaking her daughter’s heart. This puts him in an uncomfortable position of getting to know them under unpleasant circumstances. Doctors tell Kumail, Beth and Terry that they will need to keep Emily in coma until they the infection from her lungs is completely removed. Terry invites Kumail to sit with him and have lunch at the hospital cafeteria. He makes the conversation awkward by talking about 9/11. Kumail tries to get out by saying he is going out for his performance. Terry and Beth accompany him. During the act, a heckler taunts Kumail to go back to Isis. Beth nearly enters into a fight with the heckler. The trio bond in a unique way. Kumail also realises how deeply he cared for Emily. Soon Kumail’s parents become aware of  this and disown him.

He visits Emily at the hospital and gently tells her, he loves her. The next day Kumail gets a text from Terry asking him to come to the hospital. There he finds Emily awake and sitting with her parents, Kumail tries to talk to her but she refuses to speak to him. Kumail leaves feeling rejected. Emily goes through her physical therapy. She watches the video of Kumail’s Montreal show where he breaks down about her illness. She becomes aware of the sincerity of his love for her.

Kumail moves to New York and is performing in a local comedy club, when he hears a “woohoo”! It’s Emily with her friends cheering for him. They have the same exchange they had about heckling when they first met. The two share a hopeful loving smile, and eventually marry.

Michael Showalter lends a light touch to their romance, revealing comic touches, even in some bleak, oppressive circumstances. Holly Hunters as Beth and Ray Romano as Terry deliver effortless performances as Emily’s parents. Kumail Nanjiani is pleasant and believable as stand-up comedian. Zoe Kazan, in role of Emily V. Gordon, lends depth and passion. 


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