Arrival of the immigrant superhero in America

Actor Mohan Kapur, who plays the protagonist’s dad in American TV series ‘Ms Marvel’ believes the series has ‘opened the floodgates for South Asian stories and storytelling in the West’

Arrival of the immigrant superhero in America
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Garima Sadhwani

Actor Mohan Kapur has been the voice of Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Red Skull in India for a long while now. But in a much closer stint with Hollywood’s own Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kapur plays Yusuf Khan in the new series Ms Marvel.

Kapur recalls that over the last five-six years, he got approved for several roles in Hollywood projects, but never could go for the lack of an O1 visa. A talent agent would often tell him that there was a huge gap in Hollywood for actors like Kapur, because of “my ethnicity, voice, looks and acting”.

So, when in August 2020, he got an opportunity to work with Marvel, Kapur was sure that the visa wouldn’t be processed this time as well. “But Marvel Studio handled it all, and I landed in Hollywood in October 2020,” he smiles.

When Kapur did reach the sets, he wasn’t sure how he’d fit there. He was nervous as he felt his “Indian acting sensibilities” would not work. “But my manager told me that I was hired because my acting sensibilities are more international. So, I was relieved and consoled myself that this is the reason I don’t get much work in India,” he grins.

Working with Marvel though has been an experience Kapur says he’ll cherish for life. He was also fascinated with everything on the sets, from the scale, to the script, to the co-actors, the Hollywood professionalism, their technicians, and even the nuances of their writing.

However, Ms Marvel is special for Kapur not because it was his first time working with Marvel Studios so closely, but because he truly believes that this has opened the floodgates for South Asian stories and storytelling in the West. He emphasises that it might be a superhero show, but the soul of it is Kamala Khan’s family, a very regular Pakistani immigrant family in America.

Kapur thinks it might be a few years late, but now the world is ready for a woman Pakistani immigrant superhero in America. He says it’s interesting that for the first time Hollywood has realised that it can portray South Asian communities without jingoism or one-sided narratives.

It’s shown a family where the parents are trying to hold onto their beautiful, ethnic, diverse, and culturally rich roots, their values, without being any kind of fanatics.

“There’s no political overtones to it, no screaming from rooftops that we are Pakistani immigrants, but just everyday problems and issues between parents and siblings in a family.”

The actor also finds it amusing how no one would have ever imagined there’d be a Bollywood song in a Marvel show with people dancing to it at a wedding, or an Eid celebration, or a portrayal of the Partition in the subcontinent. But “the tapestry that the writers and creators have brought to life is magnificent and endearing. And that’s what I didn’t realise that people are waiting for,” says Kapur.

Arrival of the immigrant superhero in America

The actor is all praises for the team of Ms Marvel. Says he, “Zenobia (Shroff) and I were the only experienced actors on the sets and all the pivotal characters were played by newcomers. I’ve actually learned a bit of performance art from them because the effortlessness with which they delivered the dialogues was really amazing.

But no one can even imagine that this was the first time Iman Vellani was acting! I remember telling her the first time I met that she was born to play Kamala Khan, and she proved me right.”

Kapur adds that it’s interesting how Vellani was a real-life Kamala Khan because she was a total Marvel freak. Giving credit where credit is due, Kapur says the show is what it is only because of the writers and directors- a visual that is cerebrally different and heart-warming at the same time.

He adds, “There are moments that the writers have brought together that show you a typical family and are so beautiful. Like when Kamala wants to go to the convention but she isn’t allowed to, and her father agrees to dress up as the Hulk but she is embarrassed and he feels bad. They’re just so real and normal. In fact, the Green Hulk scene became really iconic for me.”

For now, all Kapur hopes for is that the show gets a second season, and that better, if not bigger, rolescome his way following this.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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