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Kumail Nanjiani on Arranged Marriages and His New Movie

He joined Larry Wilmore to describe how his own experience shaped ‘The Big Sick’

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Kumail Nanjiani’s new movie, The Big Sick, is a rom-com based on the first year of his relationship with his now-wife. His parents — Shiite Muslims from Pakistan — wanted Nanjiani to have an arranged marriage.

"Everyone in my family, like most of my cousins, have an arranged marriage," Nanjiani told Larry Wilmore on the latest episode of Black on the Air.

That cultural difference between arranged and "love" marriages is at the heart of his new film, and he discussed this on the podcast.

"A love marriage is sort of a Western marriage. And in Pakistan, there’s a line in the movie, but love marriages are a derogatory term, it’s a bad thing. You don’t want a love marriage. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, he had a love marriage.’"

He said that love marriages have a higher divorce rate than arranged ones in part because the expectations are different.

"A love marriage comes from romance, it comes from just two people coming together. So the pact is only between those two people, and it’s based in romance. So when the romance goes away, the very reason that those two people got together is gone. So they’re the only ones who are choosing whether to be together or not. An arranged marriage is sort of a pact between two families. It’s two families coming together."

There’s more on the line, in a way, in an arranged marriage.

"There’s a lot more voices, a lot more people sort of involved in that transaction. And I don’t mean arranged marriages are a transaction and love marriages [aren’t]. They’re both transactions."

Of course, arranged marriages aren’t without love. Nanjiani’s parents had an arranged marriage, and they still love each other.

"And I think, for my parents, for instance, my parents were arranged-married but they genuinely love each other. They have romantic love between them. But that slowly has to develop. If you never get to the point where you get romantic love, or if the romantic love goes away, it’s not as devastating as in a love marriage, because it wasn’t really a part of the equation in the beginning."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.