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Mohan Kapur on being Yusuf Khan in ‘Ms Marvel’

‘I feel privileged that as an Indian, I get to play a character that represents the whole region. This is what the show is all about’

Priyanka Roy  | Published 05.07.22, 01:33 AM
Mohan Kapur with Zenobia Shroff in Ms Marvel, streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Mohan Kapur with Zenobia Shroff in Ms Marvel, streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Sourced by the correspondent

He has been in the business of acting for a few decades now, but Ms Marvel is, without a doubt, Mohan Kapur’s biggest gig till date. The actor plays Yusuf Khan, the father of Kamala Khan aka Ms Marvel (played by Iman Vellani) in the Marvel series that’s garnering praise from all over the world. t2 caught up with Mohan — who also stars as Yusuf in the 2023 film The Marvels, alongside Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson — on the biggie (now streaming on Disney+Hotstar) and beyond.

Congratulations for Ms Marvel. I absolutely love the cool dad that you play on the show...

Thank you! It’s been overwhelming to say the least... it’s been surreal. When I was shooting for it, everyone said it will be very big and I was like, ‘Come on! This is the role of a father, ya’. But what I have got from the get-go, right from Episode One, has been wow! People have noticed nuances of my performance. And I am like, ‘This is really something else!’

The thing that is very encouraging is that this adulation is coming from abroad... from Hollywood, from the foreign audience from all over the world. My craft of acting has worked for an international audience, and that makes me happy. It’s been unbelievable adulation. My agent told me that Kamala (played by Iman Vellani), Yusuf and Muneeba (played by Zenobia Shroff) are being talked about the most.

How did such a big gig happen? I believe your nephews and nieces went crazy when they heard you had landed a Marvel project...

I got the script for the audition from my agent in Los Angeles in August 2020. I thought I wouldn’t get it... it’s Marvel, it’s too big. But I sent my audition nevertheless. My agent kept telling me that they liked my audition a lot, but I was still skeptical. One morning at 4am, I was sleeping and she called. I was very sleepy and she said, ‘Guess what?!’ And at that moment I thought, ‘Oh shit! I think I got it’. She was like, ‘They loved you! They don’t want to see any more people’. Everyone on the show had to go through a series of auditions... I sent one take of one shot and Marvel approved it!

Because I was so sleepy, it didn’t even sink in. I was lying down and then it hit me and I thought, ‘Hang on! I am acting in Hollywood... in a big-ticket Marvel series’. I wanted to call my mom, but it was too early to wake her up. The more I waited, the more the excitement kept building within me.

I called my mom and then my sister who live abroad and as you said, my nieces and nephews, being huge Marvel fans, were over   the moon! But I didn’t tell anybody else. I was like, ‘Let the world come to know when it has to know’.

Isn’t being hush-hush about a project also a Marvel mandate?

Yes it is. But I didn’t even tell other members of my family or even my friends. Also, it was peak Covid times and so many people were sitting at home without work. I has this huge imposter complex thinking, ‘How did I land it?! There are so many other good actors out there’ (laughs). So tom-tomming it in Covid times I thought would be very insensitive.

Before this, what was your understanding of the world of Ms Marvel?

I watched all the Marvel films on OTT in timeline order, even before I got this. For me, it was just about enjoying the experience of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am not a fan freak, I am just another viewer. I am not someone who has gobbled up the comics, studied the characters at length, knows each and every Easter egg... nope! (Laughs)

We were shooting ‘Captain Marvel 2’ (called The Marvels) in London with Brie Larson (who plays Captain Marvel). We were all sitting together and one of the actors said, ‘You know, Mohan watched the entire MCU in timeline order before he came to shoot Ms Marvel?’ And Brie looked at me and asked, ‘You did?! That’s huge commitment. I haven’t seen anything except my own stuff!’ (Laughs) I told her, ‘You don’t have time... I do!’ (Laughs)

Yusuf Khan has many shades to him. Was it all in the script or did Marvel also give you the freedom to improvise?

Both. About 95 per cent was in the script, and for the rest they allowed us to do what we wanted, as long as it was in character and within the parameters of what they were looking at.

For example, that scene which has become a talking point and very popular as a meme is my Hulk scene. The makers told me what they wanted in the scene. I thought given the kind of father Yusuf is — he’s a storyteller, he’s an entertainer, he’s a joker for his family — and he will do something to make it larger than life. So the moment the door opened to Kamala’s room, Yusuf dressed as Hulk screamed, ‘Chak de phatte!’ That’s something I improvised and everyone just cracked up on set. They loved it and that’s what you see on screen.

I am not married, I don’t have kids. In fact, I didn’t even have a dad because he passed away when I was nine months old. So I don’t know what a dad is. So what I bring subliminally or subconsciously to Yusuf is perhaps what I would have been if I had a child of my own. You are right... there is a spectrum of emotions in Yusuf.

Representation has been the buzzword for a while now, and Ms Marvel does that in such a big way. We see ourselves, our people, our culture, our language, our emotions, our food, our music in a Marvel project, which is as big as it gets. What does being part of something like this mean to you?

Firstly, I am so happy that you said this is ‘our’ story. Why would a story about a Pakistani immigrant family in New Jersey resonate with all of us? You have understood it beautifully... that this is a story about the South Asian immigrant region, and that’s the beauty of it.

I feel privileged that as an Indian, I get to play a character that represents the whole region. This is what the show is all about. We were always one. Does Pakistan have problems? Of course they do. Do they send problems to India? Of course they do. But that doesn’t mean that you carte blanche hate everybody.

This is a great story that not only talks about the people of this region, but also about things like the Partition. What can be bigger representation than that? 

What you see on the show is so nuanced and well balanced. Customs, shaadi, Id, the shots of food... through Ms Marvel, the world gets introduced to a diverse and culturally rich community. Marvel is a very responsible studio and they will never greenlight anything that is trash. A lot of thought has gone into the representation that you see on the show and Ms Marvel has now set a precedent. The West is being told this is not a land of snake charmers and elephants.

I think this is a great time for a show like this. The best thing is that this is a sweet story... it’s not a political statement. This is a story of a family in a land which is not their own, but they now call it their home. But they still hold on to their values, their customs, their traditions... it’s beautiful.

How much did having writers and directors belonging to this ethnicity contribute to the authenticity of the show as opposed to parachuting in a Western perspective?

Oh, immensely! Our writers, our directors all have South Asian roots. Six episodes of the show have been cleverly divided between three directors. The first and sixth episodes are directed by Adil and Bilall because that’s about energy, action.... The second and third are about our customs and traditions and that’s directed by Meera Menon who brought in that flavour. The fourth and the fifth are set in Karachi and are about discovering one’s roots and that’s been given to the Academy-Award winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Each brought in their own flavour, touch and sensibility. Everything has fit in like a glove.

How are you looking at leveraging this massive opportunity for future international projects?

I am looking at some projects and hoping they will work out. In 2023, we have The Marvels releasing, and that will be big.

Last updated on 05.07.22, 06:11 AM

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