The second episode of Ms Marvel began streaming on Disney+ globally and on Disney+ Hotstar in India this Wednesday afternoon. The Marvel Cinematic Universe show follows Kamala Khan, a Pakistani immigrant in the US, who acquires superpowers. While the first episode had already set the tone for the show’s unique South Asian brown tone (given the protagonist’s ethnicity), the second episode takes it further with depictions of Eid celebrations, mentions of the Partition, and even a discussion about Shah Rukh Khan’s films. Also read: Ms Marvel’s Mohan Kapur on Farhan Akhtar and Fawad Khan’s cameos: ‘Small to think why focus is on them, they’re stars’
Spoilers for episode 2 of Ms Marvel ahead!
The representation of minorities in mainstream media in the West has long been a problematic issue. For years, South Asian characters were relegated to racist stereotypes, the best example of which is Apu from The Simpsons. In the 21st century, there was increased representation of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi characters in Hollywood, but again, the characters were limited to terrorists or Oriental royals and nobles. Films like Pride and Prejudice and The Namesake were aberrations, almost always made by South Asian makers.
Why Ms Marvel is different is that ethnicity and race of the protagonist is not made a big deal in the narrative. It is not fetishised or exoticised in any manner. The Khans of Jersey City could have been the Kahns or the Klines or the Kims. But they are Khans from Pakistan, and you see that genuine South Asian touch everywhere.
It’s a regular story about a teen dealing with new-found superheroes, not so different from the story of Peter Parker. Just that this teen is a Muslim immigrant. So she goes to the mosque to pray, celebrates Eid with family, and has a friend who wears a hijab. I, for one, did not expect a conversation about headscarves between two teens on a Marvel show. Neither did I expect to see Eid being celebrated in the MCU just like Christmas. Just how organically Ms Marvel weaves these scenes in the narrative makes it worth watching.
For years, we have had to see American-desi actors play South Asians and speak Hindi/Urdu with questionable firang accents. The suspension of disbelief becomes difficult when a man supposedly from Lahore or Mumbai speaks in a Boston accent. Ms Marvel corrects that so quickly. And Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff–two veteran Indian actors who play the Khans–need to commended for it just as much as the writers and showrunners. And quite correctly, the parents don’t have accents but the kids–born and brought up in the US–do, which is how it is with most immigrant families. It’s a small detail but one that makes the show immediately more believable.
And can any mention of subcontinent culture be complete without Shah Rukh Khan? Before Farhan Akhtar or Fawad (both of whom have cameos on the show) can make their MCU debut, Shah Rukh finds his way into the Marvel Universe. In an interaction between Kamala and her crush Kamran, Bollywood movies are discussed. She asks him if he watches any, and he replies, “Obviously but only the greats like Baazigar and stuff.” She responds that it’s SRK’s best work and then they wonder why popular opinion says it’s DDLJ. But the show does have Kamala say, “There is no such thing as a bad Shah Rukh Khan movie.” If this was a theatrical release, audience would have cheered in the theatre. But for now, we will have to contend with cheering in front of our TVs, laptops, and tablets. Also read: ‘If Shah Rukh Khan wants to be in this show, we will go film again’, says Ms Marvel co-executive producer Sana Amanat
Ms Marvel is a show about a teenager, her family, and how she is coming of age. At times, the superhero angles seems incidental, which is a good thing, I feel. All the best superhero stories are–at heart–about emotions, The VFX and action is just cherry on top. In the first two episodes, the show has added two beautiful layers to that cake just before putting that cherry. Let’s hope there is more deliciousness in the weeks to come.