Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy talks about directing ‘Ms Marvel’ | The Express Tribune


I have a confession to make. My introduction to Marvel wasn’t conventional. I didn’t grow up reading and re-reading comic books; I never stood in long queues and waited for the latest paperback of the next superhero comic. I fell in love with Marvel the way very few did; I fell in love with the Marvel Cinematic Universe first and later with the comics. Thankfully, it turns out I am not alone in this universe.

The last offering of the third phase of MCU, Avengers: Endgame, saw the end of many beloved characters. It was indeed heartbreaking, but the future of the MCU looked brighter than ever. As Marvel entered its fourth phase, we saw diverse characters and more inclusive storylines in an otherwise whitewashed cast *cough, star Avengers, cough*.

Phase 4 wasn’t just about the films – the latest MCU phase introduced fans to many shows as well. The origin shows included WandaVision, Loki, What If…, Moon Knight among others.

However, there was one particular web series I was anxiously waiting for. In 2018, rumours about Marvel bringing Ms Marvel, its first-ever Muslim superhero that has roots in Pakistan, to the screens made rounds. The woes of casting, and getting the representation right loomed over. Who would portray Kamala Khan? How well could Marvel intercept the true Pakistani culture? Who would helm the said series? Several questions popped in everyone’s mind – and rightfully so.

All discussions regarding the show were kept under wraps for a while. Ms Marvel has been helmed by not one but four directors – each roped in for different episodes. One of those four directors was Pakistan’s first-ever Oscar-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

There have been quite a few firsts for the renowned director. From winning the first Emmy and Oscar – the highest television and film honours – for the country to paving way for several rights for Pakistani women and rubbing shoulders with the best of the best, Chinoy has been making headlines for all the right reasons.

So, imagine our delight when the news of the ace filmmaker becoming the first-ever Pakistani director to work with Marvel made rounds. And it wasn’t a one-off chance that the project just fell in her lap.

“I have been looking for the kind of story-telling that stays true to the kind of filmmaking my career has been based on,” the award-winning director shared with The Express Tribune as we sat for a tête-à-tête at the SOC Karachi office. Chinoy was then readying herself to fly back to the US where a star-studded premiere of Ms Marvel was set to take place.

“My idea is championing the stories of ordinary men and women, who have extraordinary abilities,” she comments. “When the idea of bringing Ms Marvel from comics to the screen came about, I was asked whether I want to throw my hat in the ring. I then thought to myself that this is the kind of story that excites me, that I’d like to be a part of, because it really is the birthing of a very different kind of superhero which will allow so many people around the world who are minorities, who are immigrants, see the reflection of themselves on screen. I went through the process of meeting the creators and executive producers at Marvel studios such as Kevin Feige, Victoria and Lou along with head-writer Bisha K Ahmed. I talked about my vision and why I want to be a part of this and before I knew it, I was calling ‘action’.”

She went on to add, “It was very important for me to tell an authentic story. From the very beginning, Marvel Studios was very clear about the fact that they want to bring authenticity to the life of Kamala Khan, which is why they put together a cast and a truly global crew that came from the different parts of the world and brought in the kind of sensibilities that allowed us to tell this story.”

The story of Kamala Khan is the story of an immigrant teenager from New Jersey. She finds her superpowers and she has no idea how to deal with them. “It is also pertinent to mention here that when you are an immigrant child, you aren’t a Pakistani or an Indian or a Bangladeshi. You are a South Asian,” she remarked. “The restaurants you go to, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, is pan South Asian. Any immigrant will tell you that from Jersey, or anywhere for that matter. The show is true to that immigrant experience. So, you’ll see all of this in the show. In the clothes we chose, in the music, in the food – it’s a celebration of South Asian culture.”

She elaborated further by saying, “I think when you are a 17-year-old high school student, whether you are from the US or in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world, I think the angst between the parents and the children, the relationships, the high school life, the transition into adulthood – all of that is universal. The friends, being an outcast or trying to fit in, trying to be cool, all of that is universal. And that is an imperative part of our show.”

While Pakistani Marvel fans were patiently waiting for Ms Marvel to drop, there was one important question that just popped into everyone’s mind: where we will watch the upcoming Marvel show. Disney+ is unavailable in Pakistan, hence Chinoy announced last month that Ms Marvel will be screened in theatres throughout Pakistan.

“Right from the beginning, Sana Amanat (co-creator) and I wanted Pakistanis to have access to Ms Marvel and I think Marvel Studios has done a wonderful job to bring it to fruition,” she says. “This show needs to be watched by the masses and it needs to be celebrated, it’s a pity we don’t have Disney+ in the country but this has been a gift to the Pakistani audience.”

Sharing her experience of working with Marvel, Chinoy quipped it certainly was an experience of a lifetime. “From being a filmmaker who had a limited set of resources to work with and then going on to work with one of the largest international studios in the world, it was rather wholesome,” she said. “I had a vision and Marvel gave me tools to turn that vision into a reality. I was able to work with visual effects, stunts and big sets and costume designers. There was a moment during the second week of filming where I just stood back, looking around and seeing hundreds of extras. It sort of hit me at that moment that I was making a very different kind of project now.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, Chinoy said, “Working with Marvel was a steep learning curve. My entire career has been about learning on the job, I never went to a film school. This month marks 20 years of filmmaking. 20 years down the line, I hope I have done justice to a project as mammoth as Ms Marvel.”

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