Ms Marvel: How the Marvel Cinematic Universe show gets Partition right while so many others fail
Ms Marvel, the Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe show explores the tragedy of the Partition in its fourth episode and handles it with the grace and respect few shows or films have managed in the past, certainly none from the West.
A few years ago, popular sci-fi show Doctor Who attempted something not many Western shows have dared to. It set an episode around the Partition of India. While the show had the background of an alien invasion, the sensitive portrayal of the Partition (or at least an attempt to do that) was noted by many. However, the episode was also criticized by many for looking at a colonial tragedy through the lens of the colonizer. Ms Marvel has solved that. The latest episode of the MCU show portrays the biggest humanitarian tragedy in history with unprecedented sensitivity and it trusts south Asian people to do so. Also Read| With Farhan Akhtar, Pasoori, auto rickshaw chase in Karachi, Ms Marvel goes desi
There have been countless stories in India and Pakistan set around the Partition. Only few have managed to portray it with the respect it deserves. Pinjar from this side and Dastaan from across the border immediately come to mind. But there have been more misses than hits when filmmakers have attempted to wander into this era. But surprisingly, a Marvel Cinematic Universe show about a Pakistani-American girl dealing with new superpowers gets it right.
Spoilers for Ms Marvel episode 4 ahead!
Ms Marvel respects Partition. Already, in the three episodes, we have seen the protagonist Kamala Khan’s family broach the subject and talk about it as a tragedy that affected millions in the subcontinent. But episode four sees the characters talk about freely for the first time. Two scenes stand out. One sees Kamala’s nani talk about how the Partition has created an identity crisis for millions on either side of the border. “My passport is Pakistani and my roots are Indian. And in between is a border, built with blood and pain,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s a simple thought put very simply but still encompassing all the pain, confusion and tragedy caused by that one event in 1947.
But the most complex and difficult sequence that Ms Marvel gets spot on is the actual depiction of the Partition, through a short but impactful scene of the Karachi train station. It captures the confusion, mayhem, and madness of thousands of people being uprooted from their homes perfectly and does not go overboard even in one frame.
How did Ms Marvel achieve this? By entrusting the reins of the story to people seeped in the history of Partition. The episode is directed by Pakistani journalist-turned-filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The two-time Oscar winner was born and brought up in Karachi and knows the history of the city and region all too well. Helping Sharmeen from behind the scenes is the showrunner and head writer Bisha K Ali, another Pakistani-origin artiste. They have ensured that the perspective of the story remains subcontinental. It is a tragedy that has been lived by the people of this region. It deserves to be told by them too, and not some British or American folks who grew up in Jersey or New Jersey.
Many would ask why is it a big deal that Ms Marvel gets Partition right. After all, many homegrown stories have done it too. So what sets Ms Marvel apart? The difference here is that Ms Marvel has been created for a global audience. It is a show set in the same franchise as Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Kamala Khan will be next seen in The Marvels. The reach this show has is bigger than most Indian productions can dream to achieve. So, it is important that it tells the story of Partition well. Because for many Westerners, this will be the first time they will be introduced to this episode of human history. And they need to see an unbiased, well-made take on it.
Ms Marvel has only begun to explore the Partition. Of course, it is the next episode that will truly be the litmus test for how Ms Marvel handles this sensitive era. But as they say, well begun is half done! The next episode streams next Wednesday on Disney+ Hotstar and if the show continues as it has, it will give the Partition the global audience it has deserved for decades.