Americanish, co-written and directed by Iman K Zawahry, is a Romantic Comedy for an America too many don’t want to acknowledge. At the centre of the story are the Khan family of Jackson Heights Queens NY. Mother – Khala Khan (Lillete Dubey) is an immigrant from Pakistan whose husband left her with two young daughters, Sam (Aizzah Fatima – co-writer of the script) and Maryam (Salena Qureshi).
As the movie starts the two American born girls are joined by their Pakistani cousin Ameera (Shenaz Treasury) who is literally fresh off the plane. She has come to America with the specific purpose of finding a Pakistani/American doctor to marry. While Ameera’s story is only 1/3rd of Americanish, she is also the axis around which the movie seems to revolve.
Her dream of marrying an American doctor to secure her future helps to accentuate the differences between herself and her two American born cousins. Sam is a young professional striving to make something of herself and create a successful career.
Her younger sister Maryam is an equally driven pre-med student. However, unlike Sam she has embraced her family’s traditions as we see in her opening scene where she’s donning her hijab. One thing the two Khan daughters have in common is that neither have any ambition to marry. Their mother might have designs on setting them up with men she deems eligible – a nice German/Pakistani doctor for Sam – but they aren’t going to be pushed.
So Khala puts all her matchmaking skills into finding Ameera a wife. This includes scouring the matrimonial section of the local Urdu Times – which turns out to be something of a disappointment “All these 50 year old men posting pictures of themselves when they were 18 and had hair” – and Halal Speed Dating. The latter turns out to be as tacky as it sounds.
Americanish is more than just another Romantic Comedy. While it has many of the tropes normal to the genre; finding love in unexpected places, having to choose between what the heart wants and what is considered appropriate, and choosing between career and marriage; it also moves into deeper social/political territory than other movies of a similar nature.
There’s the fact that the action centres around a Muslim Pakistani American family for a start. When have we ever seen a mainstream American movie set in this community? Secondly, how many movies have actually shown the diversity of thought and opinion in not just the Pakistani/American community but among American Muslims period? Let’s face it – most main stream TV and movies create the opinion of some sort of monolithic group with a kind of hive mind. Whether we know it or not this is the kind of racism being drip fed to us on a daily basis
In a country where a great number of politicians and pundits are still doing their best to make Islam the enemy of all things American, Americanish is a breath of fresh air. There are no heavy political statements, no preaching – just a family dealing with issues anybody can identify with.
Sure some of the traditions are different from what most are used to, but the emotions and reactions are universal. The fact that there are people who will be surprised and say things like “Oh they’re just like us”, upon seeing Americanish is a sad commentary on the state of the world.
However, it doesn’t detract from how important it is to make that message clear. The fact that Americanish is a well written, wonderfully performed movie replete with moments of genuine laughter and joy, means you can also just sit back and enjoy a lovely movie at the same time as having your mind expanded.
For above all, aside from its messages about the positivity of diversity, and its bravery for offering a glimpse into the divide between the African American and South East Asian Islamic communities, Americanish is a good movie with interesting characters and a plot that offers some nice surprises.
Let’s be real. There aren’t too many genuinely nice movies out there, or Romantic Comedies which don’t descend into cliches or sentimentality. Americanish is not only an exception to that rule but it also has the added benefit of being thoughtful and heartfelt.