Partition, SRK, hijab – why Indians and Americans have to watch Pakistani Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel is a lesson for Indians and the rest of the world to recognize Pakistani Muslim identity on screen. Streaming on Disney Hotstar, show standup comedian and screenwriter Bisha K Ali has 96 percent of critics and 83 percent of audiences on Rotten Tomatoes – its popularity cannot be denied. But that means a lot more than what viewers and critics think. The series gives the world its first Muslim superhero, who is also a woman. That means a lot to both the kids and the adults watching the show.

The greatest strength of the show lies in the way it treats the commonly used word of the first world – ‘representation’. Instead of a generic South Asian identity that depends almost entirely on being Indian, Mrs. Marvel looks at the life of an immigrant Pakistani Muslim family in New Jersey and marks every box. The main character, Kamala Khan, played by 19-year-old Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellani, captured the essence of the series – to finally give a loud and proud voice to Pakistani children, especially girls, which most of them are denied. Western movies. In most Hollywood movies and series, the Muslim family has no voice – either they live in fear under the dark cloud of terrorism or they find them suspicious. Mrs. Marvel they break that wall – here is Eid, Tesher’s song Jalebi Babyteenage problems, the Shah Rukh Khan fandom, and even the mention of Partition.

This opens eyes not only to the US, but also to Indians who stereotype Pakistanis.

Read also: Say what you can – Marvel Studios has triumphed over DC. And it all started with the Avengers

Pakistani Muslim identity

In Netflix I never did (2020), we saw the story of the first generation of Indian American teenager Devi, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. The quintessential Indian show created by Mindy Kaling has led Devi to struggle with her ‘firangi’ problems as an Indian desi American. For the first time we had a flawed, Indian teenager, who wanted to be more than a climax.

Mrs. Marvel has done the same and more for Pakistani Muslim identity, especially as India and Pakistan merge when it comes to Western representation. There is not much difference between the two nations in the minds of the Western world, something Mrs. Marvel corrects without being politically or culturally incorrect. From the Pakistani version of Partition of 1947 to raising Bollywood love, everything has been handled in a way that exceeds expectations. One doesn’t dilute the other, simply because these are narratives we can’t normally see in Marvel’s cinematic universe.

If the Indians had Devi, the Pakistanis now have Kamala – that’s a great way to learn more about the culture of our closest neighbor without prejudice.

For decades, the only phrase you would hear on television and film screens that is associated with the Muslim community is ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ used in the context of violence instead of respect. But with Mrs. Marvel, you hear ‘Bismillah’, ‘MashAllah’, ‘InshAllah’ as everyday expressions used by Muslims. Whether it is vocabulary or kayak input, practices that are common are portrayed as such instead of being exoticized as rituals or extraordinary events packed for Western audiences.

It is encouraging to note that first with Black Panther (2018) and now Mrs. Marvel, Marvel Studios has made conscious presentation decisions. He slipped a comma with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), but his latest offer managed to get the production house back on its feet. The experience that Muslims around the world see and hear is unprecedented.

The idea that a superhero can dance to bhangra may seem strange to a Western audience, but for us it is the most normal thing. Take a look at what happened recently. Instagram saw a troupe of Norwegian men dancing their way to viralism with songs by Shah Rukh Khan. Whether it’s India or Pakistan or the rest of the world, SRK is an emotion, and even a superhero can’t escape it. Kamala Khan says it is her favorite movie Baazigar (1993).

Read also: Moon Knight, Disney + miniseries is a refreshing departure from the usual Marvel template

A global Muslim woman

While Muslim men are portrayed as terrorists or helpers of a ‘just’ Western hero, Muslim women, especially from Pakistan, were completely absent. In 2020, we had Nimrat Kaura in the role of Tasneem Qureshi, head of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI on Homeland. And in 2022 we have a teen superhero, that’s progress. Although it was slow, directors, producers and writers finally began to notice how they could play around or inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes that are contributed to the rise of anti-Asian racism.

Although attacks on the hijab were widespread, either in France or a nearby house in Karnataka, we have teenagers in Mrs. Marvel explain what those clothes mean to her. The choice for a teenager in the United States is explained without additional embellishments and inclinations.

From the stories of Kamala’s mother, Muneeba, to her best friend Nakia, Muslim women have found a voice in Marvel’s cinematic universe and don’t have to shout to hear them. Even Tyesha, a black Muslim woman and Kamala’s brother’s fiancée, finds space, diversifying narratives associated with Muslim identity.

From fearing Gin instead of ghosts as a child and complaining about the infrastructure of the women’s ‘foreign’ mosque, Kamala’s culture, heritage and beliefs have not been sacrificed to attract a global audience.

Instead, the show defiantly and vividly allows Kamala to take over her space, listens to artists such as Riz Ahmed, Ritvik and Raaginder, and wears her family heritage bracelet to help her take on the role. Mrs. Marvel. It’s a win for the show, the cast and the audience.

The views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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