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Exclusive: Jemima Khan discusses breaking boundaries, Princess Diana and royal family's arranged marriages

The British humanitarian has released her new film What's Love Got to Do with It?

jemima khan black and white
Sharnaz Shahid
Deputy Online Editor
8 March 2023
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Jemima Khan's new project is, amazingly, one which has been ten years in the making. It's her debut romantic comedy What's Love Got to Do with It? which thoughtfully explores the subject of arranged marriages and what different cultures can teach each other.

Mother-of-two Jemima sits down with HELLO! to explain why it was "nerve-wracking" showing the movie to her sons, as well as her own views on arranged marriages and why she included a special nod to Princess Diana in the film.

Jemima, the daughter of the late billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith, wrote and produced the movie, which stars Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi and Emma Thompson. It shares a beautiful and uplifting insight into the conventions followed by some of today's generation of British Asians with regard to arranged marriages.

jemima khan cover shot

Jemima takes part in HELLO!'s International Women's Day issue

Jemima, whose thought-provoking writing has won her accolades and a large following, drew on her own experiences of what different cultures can teach each other. She married famous Pakistani politician and former cricketer, Imran Khan, and spent 10 years living in Pakistan. The two were married in a lavish ceremony in Paris in 1995 and went on to have two sons together, but eventually divorced in 2004.

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Despite their divorce, Jemima and Imran have maintained a close friendship, with the 49-year-old even publicly supporting Imran's political aspirations. He eventually became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018.

jemima khan full body

The screenwriter and philanthropist has stayed close to her ties to Pakistan

Over the years, their relationship garnered much attention and was the subject of much media speculation due to their differences in culture and background - themes which were alluded to in the new movie.

In an exclusive interview with HELLO! in honour of International Women's Day, we get the full story from Jemima.

What an incredible cast from Shabana Azmi to Emma Thompson, what was it like working with them?

We got a great team together. It is amazing even Sajal [Ali], Lily [James] and Shazad [Latif], and even the musical team with Naughty Boy and Nitin [Sawhney]. I feel incredibly lucky and it's really exciting that we're getting to almost the end of this very, very long process which started literally ten years ago.

Your love for Pakistan is no secret. A lot of today's generation will be able to relate to this film - we've not had many intercultural romcoms made within the Asian community, were you conscious of this?

The response from British Asians has been amazing. I'm so happy because obviously, that's nerve-racking, it was nerve-racking showing it to the British Asian audience and then even more nerve-wracking, showing it to my kids. We've had such an amazing response in that respect.

jemima khan princess diana

The mother-of-two was a close friend of Princess Diana

Pakistan and Pakistanis in the UK in general, tend to get a bad rap in the press - would you agree?

It's true - you only have to watch Homeland or Zero Dark Thirty and you go, 'Oh God, they're the baddies again'. Or they're kind of just portrayed as someone kind of backwards and uncool. Pakistan itself is always seen as a kind of scary, inhospitable place which is not my experience at all. Of course, outside of politics, as politics is hell. I really wanted to show Pakistan as somewhere kind of fun, colourful and surprising.

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What was your inspiration behind this beautiful love story?

I think in my ten years of living in Pakistan. I was there from age 20 to 30 and I think that those are quite formative years. I have Pakistani kids and I lived in a joint family household. I lived with my ex-husband's extended family - so his father, his sisters, their husbands, their children, and all his nephews and nieces. There were about 20 of us all living in one house and they were all arranged marriages.

Ours was the only non-arranged marriage in his entire family history and so I saw arranged marriages kind of up close. I saw long-term ones with the older generation, I saw arranged marriages taking place.

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Jemima speaks about her marriage to Imran Khan and her friendship with Princess Diana

I really was forced to kind of question and challenge all my preconceptions about what an arranged marriage is coming from my background. My group of friends and I never, I was probably as guilty as the next person, you know, seeing them in a very one-dimensional way and not understanding that there is like such a scale between forced marriage and assisted marriage which are worlds apart.

Looking at your Twitter feed, Pakistanis still have a lot of love for you, but you didn't have an easy time while living there. Do you have any plans to do any film projects over there?

I think that there were lots of reasons. I wanted to reflect on the shift in my understanding of what arranged marriage was and didn't really like to see how kind of demonized and one-dimensionalised it has been in kind of western depictions. I actually see some merit to it now, particularly as I get older. You write what you know, I wanted to write a film, and I wrote what I had experienced and what I'd seen, and it was based on my own personal experiences.

You picked up on the Asian "in-jokes"...

Things like the idea of being randomly selected [at the airport]. We've got to leave extra time because we need to leave time to be randomly selected at the airport. That's literally from travelling with my sons because they have Muslim-Pakistani names and when they go through the airport, we have to leave extra time because it's meant to be random, but we always still seem to miss our connection when they're travelling with me and I don't miss it otherwise. Some of it is just stuff that I've seen.

whats love got to go with it film still

Lily James and Shazad Latif star in Jemima's new film

I have to ask about the subtle references to Princess Diana in the film, what do you think she would have made of them?

It's hard to say but I definitely wanted to add a nod to her and her visits to Pakistan because I think Pakistanis kind of took her to their hearts and talk about her with a great deal of love. She visited me twice when I was there and she had a huge impact and left a big impression because she did all this kind of philanthropic work for my ex-husband's cancer hospital.

You included the phrase, "Whatever love means," some may interpret this as making a jab at King Charles but were you drawing parallels between his arranged marriage and arranged marriages within the South Asian community?

Exactly. Well spotted. Basically, I'm just trying to say, look arranged marriage isn't that alien. Even our royal family basically conduct it, they practised arranged marriages only one generation ago – so it was just a nod to that.

Who is the woman who inspires you most and why? Are there any women from your time in Pakistan who you considered role models?

I'm always really bad at thinking for one example, but I have loads of friends who are brilliant, strong women in Pakistan, but no one that HELLO! readers would have heard of.

What would you say have been some of the biggest successes in your life?

Well on a personal level, it's always going to be my kids because I'm really proud of the people they've become, but professionally, I think one is always proud of something that's very hard to do. For me, I've produced lots of television and film, something like 30 hours of television for the US and the UK in the last few years. But writing a film is a whole other level of challenge so I do feel proud that we've got to this stage regardless of the outcome.

WATCH: A look at Jemima's debut romcom movie What's Love Got to Do with It?

How important do you think female friendships are within your circle?

For me, it's outside of being a mother and outside of work. It's the most important thing. I have a really, really solid circle of friends. I'm very lucky to have very solid, long-lasting female friendships that are incredibly strong.

Your sons - how are you raising them to be feminists?

They've got a strong sister who's a really excellent feminist influence on them.

Finally, what did your children think of the film?

They were really proud and that was the best moment in the whole process. They came to see it and I could see they had a little cry at the end and I heard them laughing. They watched me working on it for such a long time. They came up at the end and said, 'we're so proud of you Amma' and they gave me a big hug - it was a brilliant moment.


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