When the entire world paused during the first lockdown of 2020, people found respite in quirky trends, brewing dalgona coffee, baking, mandala art, singing, blogging but most importantly consuming content. A lot of it. Content of all kinds and from different parts of the world – anthologies, short stories, documentaries, films and podcasts. That is when I discovered Pakistani dramas. I instantly fell in love with the actors, the plots and the original soundtracks. The dramas I watched left an indelible impact on me, either in terms of their strong message, hilariously relatable characters or the music, which is still an integral part of my present-day playlist.
When Marvel announced that its next mini-series, Ms. Marvel, will revolve around a Pakistani protagonist, I was ecstatic and had great expectations. I was hoping for it to follow the trope of the serials that I had watched in the past two years, with the trailer revealing very little. Did Ms. Marvel surpass these expectations? In terms of representation, it definitely superseded its previous offerings. The six-episode series is a concoction of fun, adventure, and wit; it succeeds in establishing a new era of Marvel but is not free of flaws.
We are introduced to Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City who emulates her favourite superheroes (especially Captain Marvel), creates fan art and does not shy away from wearing anything that screams "Avengers". Her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) complains incessantly that Kamala lives in her fantasy world just like her Nani, which has never brought any good to the family. Amid trying to fit in, figuring out who she is and high schooling, Kamala is endowed with a seemingly innocuous bangle. Through it, she gains the ability to harness cosmic energy, which wreaks havoc in the city. What follows is a powerful coming-of-age narrative, with some episodes hitting just the right note while others miss the mark by a mile.
The vibrantly stylised show is a wholehearted attempt to indulge the Indian diaspora. The dialogue ranges from philosophical to witty, my favourite one being – "there is no such thing as a bad Shah Rukh Khan movie", as characters discuss Baazigar. My Bollywood heart melted that very moment. There are many homages to South Asian artists through their soundtracks, which have been utilised in between sequences and credits.
The show soars, plateaus, falters and soars again, blowing hot and cold before finally finding its footing in the last two episodes. Created by Bisha K. Ali and directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Meera Menon, Ms. Marvel is an acquired taste. Fawad Khan and Farhan Akhtar appear in fleeting cameos. While Farhan's character doesn't seem to fit into the larger picture, Fawad's role and performance linger on. He plays the role of a rose farmer and exudes the same charm we witnessed in Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Humsafar. The chemistry between Mehwish Hayat and Fawad is electric in the episode "Time and Again", which I personally think deserves a series of its own. Samina Ahmed, whom I absolutely loved in Suno Chanda and Mere Humsafar (which is now trending in India) plays the role of Kamala Khan's Nani and shines effortlessly.
Iman Vellani imbues Kamala Khan with youthful verve. However, what doesn't work in favour of our hero and her adventures is how dispensable the villains are. She is portrayed as a force to be reckoned with, while the villains, DODC and Clandestines, are easily defeated by a young girl who has just come to terms with her newly found powers and a bunch of other tech-savvy teenagers. A villain with a stronger purpose and backstory could have been a game changer for the show.
More often than not, one feels disconnected and detached from the storyline because it is trying to be too many things at once — highlighting the plight of Muslims in America, utilising the theme of partition between India and Pakistan, being a high school drama, portraying a teenager discovering her rich lineage — the list goes on. The show becomes a convoluted mess and loses focus.
Despite its shortcomings, the show nails certain aspects, like its depiction of the big fat South-Asian wedding. The ensemble cast offers promising performances as well. Whether it is a hit or a miss? I would say a bit of both.
Ms. Marvel is available on Disney+ Hotstar.