Before anything else, I should mention that anything I say about this movie is extremely biased and emotional.
After arriving in a world where being brown makes you an Other, I find myself constantly looking for opportunities to make myself less of an Other, while still shamelessly maintaining my identity’s novelty in the areas where it counts (eg. diversity quotas in workplaces, colleges).
And so ‘The Big Sick’ came as a great ‘Let’s please go look at this amazing, positive representation of brown, muslim, Pakistanis!’-opportunity. It helped that I could boast about how Kumail Nanjiani and I came from the same high school. It also helped that I had been waiting for and looking forward to this movie in general. How many times is it that I see a guy from my high school in Karachi, Pakistan make it to Hollywood?
I dragged my Nepali friend with me, promising that she wouldn’t be disappointed. We found the theater surprisingly full. Either I’ve made it a habit to catch the last few shows of any movie, so I’m used to finding empty theaters, or a lot of people actually wanted to see this movie. We were still the only two brown people there, though, which was a nice thing in this context; we might get to laugh at things nobody else would understand.
The movie was deliciously American-Pakistani. It wasn’t confused with Indian culture and this mattered a lot to me. For once, it wasn’t ‘South Asia’ being talked about – it was just me and my Pakistan, and our interaction with Amreeka. My personal favorite scene was the one where we see Kumail acting in his one-man show, earnestly explaining everything he can about Pakistan. The separation from India, cricket culture, the Muslim-ness, even the usage of the word ‘khansama’; I understood this sentiment completely because I’ve felt the urge to do the same so many times too. It was so pure and so real.
I did find it a little weird that they had Anupam Kher playing a Pakistani dad (Could they not get a Pakistani actor? Is it really necessary to drag India in somehow or the other?) but he’s one of the few Indian actors I like so I didn’t mind this as much as I did the choice of an Indian actor for Kumail’s mom. This was partly because she brought nothing extraordinary or exceptionally fun to the role (like Kher did, to some extent) and partly because she acted quite Indian. And contrary to popular (and convenient) belief, Pakistanis and Indians differ in their ‘isms. There’s a lot of overlap, but enough differences that I would have liked to see it in the acting.
The actors playing Kumail’s brother and sister-in-law (Adeel Akhtar and Vella Lovell) were extremely believable and I loved the dinner-table banter! (Notice how I wasn’t bothered that Vella isn’t even vaguely South Asian. I don’t know! I enjoyed her on-screen and couldn’t tell the difference! Also I’m weird and un-objective about this movie.)
I appreciated how the story-line didn’t dwell too heavily on explaining and justifying things. They didn’t put a non-desi at the dinner-table and create conversations explaining things, using them as a prop to spell out the culture to the wider audience. They just went ahead and said it or did it or showed it. It helped drive the point home that, all of these cultures are quite rampant in America and have been for a while. All of this being said though, Kumail’s one-man show was a very smart way of stuffing in some explanations. It was funny, it was endearing and it rang true with Paki-American audiences.