Ms. Marvel Depicts South Asian Culture Effortlessly

From music to language — Marvel has done an incredible job of depicting Kamala Khan's community
Ms. Marvel Depicts South Asian Culture Effortlessly

The highly-anticipated series Ms. Marvel, whose first episode was released on June 8, gives the world its first Muslim and Pakistani-American superhero. Marvel franchise's new project tells the story of a girl named Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old daughter of South Asian immigrants, whose life turns upside down when she discovers her superpowers.

In recent years, Marvel has pushed the boat in terms of inclusivity and representation in its projects. Ms. Marvel becomes Marvel's third outing, after Black Panther and Shang Chi and The Legend of Ten Rings, that uses the protagonist's cultural heritage to drive the story forward.

Three episodes down and the show has received mixed reactions. Many viewers did not shy away from harshly criticising Ms. Marvel. It also became the victim of what is called 'review-bombing', as it received collective negative traction. Amidst this unnecessary clamour, the delightful addition to the MCU has received a lot of love as well. For several South Asian and Muslim fans, Ms. Marvel has introduced a character to relate to; they understand the trials and tribulations Kamala Khan faces living as a Pakistani-American teenager in Jersey City.

On a personal and unpopular note, I am not a Marvel aficionado. However, the show's premise made me curious. As a child growing up in India, the likes of Shaktiman, Krrish and Ra.One always flooded my mind when someone mentioned a desi superhero. I was not aware that the globally-popular MCU had a superhero who hails from South Asia and is, against all odds, a young girl! Therefore, I had to watch it at any cost, despite not being aware of the all-important back story.

Ms. Marvel's creators have done an incredible job in showcasing the cultural symbols of Kamala Khan's community. Never in my life did I imagine hearing the words 'beta' and 'chalo' on a mainstream show like this. The mere mention of Bollywood movies is enough to bring a smile to our faces — Kamala and Kamran (played by Iman Vellani and Rish Shah respectively) bonding over their love for Shah Rukh Khan felt like being transported to a romantic comedy with a quintessential desi 'meet cute'.

No show is complete without music. In the past, Marvel has been lauded for using songs accurately for their projects. For Ms. Marvel as well, they pulled out all the stops. The soundtrack is a masterful blend of Pakistani and Indian music. 'Ko Ko Korina', for instance, is featured in one of the episodes, a song that many hail as Pakistan's first-ever pop number, sung by Ahmed Rushdi in 1966. Songs like 'Peechay Hutt' from Coke Studio Season 14, 'Rozi' by Eva B, 'Sohniye I Love You' by Nahid Akhtar are also featured in the show, tipping their hat to the country's music. It does not stop here though. Songs like 'Tere Bina' from Guru, 'Sage' and 'Thandi Hawa' by Ritviz, 'Jalebi Baby' by Tesher among many others were used as well, which came as a pleasant surprise.

Apart from depicting South Asian culture, Ms. Marvel is garnering accolades for its positive portrayal of Muslim characters on screen. Hollywood has been guilty of vilifying Islam in many of its movies and shows. They have been reduced to stereotypical roles that are often offensive. The ongoing series aims to shift the narrative in a positive direction.  An instance of this is the interaction between Kamala and her friend, Nakia, where they discuss the struggles of fitting in and their identity. Nakia, played by the brilliant Yasmeen Fletcher, proudly dons the Hijab and feels that it gives her a purpose.

As we eagerly wait for Wednesday to arrive, credits should be given where it's due. Up until now, Ms. Marvel is doing an impeccable job of representing South Asian culture on-screen. For young boys and girls hailing from the Indian subcontinent, a superhero coming from similar culture and circumstances pushes them to dream big and believe that the world is, indeed, their oyster.

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