With AR Rahman, Coke Studio, Riz Ahmed, and Jalebi Baby, Ms Marvel brings desi music to Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Disney+ show Ms Marvel is about a Pakistani-origin girl in US getting superpowers and the show's choice of desi music asserts its distinct brown identity within the Marvel Universe.
Most storytellers will tell you that in an audio-visual medium, music plays a huge role in setting the ambience and truly immersing the viewer in the experience. That’s why we have awards for sound engineers and mixers at the Oscars, and of course almost a dozen categories for film soundtracks back home. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been pretty adept at using music to set the tone for its films. Probably few films have done it as effectively as Guardians of the Galaxy. And now, Ms Marvel is carrying forward the legacy. The show not only brings music to set the tone but also to bring the South Asian ethnic background of the protagonist to the fore. Also read: Ms Marvel’s Mohan Kapur on Farhan Akhtar and Fawad Khan’s cameos: ‘Small to think why focus is on them, they’re stars’
Minor spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of Ms Marvel ahead!
There is a moment in the first episode of Ms Marvel when the protagonist Kamala Khan goes clothes shopping. And since its for Kamala’s brother’s upcoming wedding, the trip is to Jersey City’s south Asian market. The scene is set to the foot-tapping number Ko Ko Korina. Many in India may be oblivious to the popular track but it remains one of the most popular tracks in Pakistan. Sung by Ahmed Rushdi for the 1966 film Armaan, it is regarded as South Asia’s first pop song. That immediately sets the tone of the show. It is a show about a brown girl from Jersey City and hence, it’s soundtrack reflects that brownness.
All through the first two episodes, you will see scenes with a sprinkling of desi music, be it Eva B’s Urdu rap Rozi, which talks about girls breaking glass ceilings or Nahid Akhtar’s Sohniye I Love You from the Pakistani film Babul Veer. And of course, Coke Studio sneaks in too with the season 14 track Peechay Hutt being featured as well.
But it’s not all Pakistani music. Indian music--be it as mainstream as a Rajinikanth film or as niche as a Ritviz track--also finds representation on the show. The biggest of the lot is AR Rahman’s Oh Nanba from Lingaa, which brings SP Balasubrmaniam’s voice to the Marvel Universe. The soundtrack also includes Raja Kumari’s Goddess, Ritviz’s Sage, as well as Ishq Bector, Kully Bhamra, and Angus Campbell’s Disco Gully. The man who gave us Aye Hip-Hopper and Daaku Daddy now has a track on a Marvel show.
And what makes Ms Marvel quintessentially South Asian in its approach is the songs fit the narrative. They are not there just to fill in the gaps in the show’s audio. So when you have Kamal swooning over the new guy at her school, you can hear Tesher singing Jalebi Baby in the background. Similarly, as the credits for the first episode begin rolling after Kamala is in a dilemma, we hear Eva B singing, “Jo kuch bhi seekha galtiyon se hi seekha maine (Whatever I have learnt, I did so from my mistakes).”
But in the end, Ms Marvel’s USP is that it is about a Pakistani girl living in Jersey trying to save the world. And to depict that, you have Riz Ahmed and his Deal With It talking about how far south Asian representation has come in mainstream media. “We just had Apu, now we got movie stars,” he raps, referring to The Simpsons’ famous (now infamous) character. Also read: Ms Marvel first reactions out: Critics praise lead actor Iman Vellani, compare show to Spider-Man films
All that combined makes Ms Marvel the most Bollywood/Lollywood avatar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Any fan of any film industry in South Asia will tell you that no good brown story can be told without music. And Ms Marvel is no different.
Ms Marvel begins streaming on Disney+ globally and on Disney+ Hotstar in India this week. The first episodes of the show release on June 8 with the subsequent episodes releasing on a weekly basis.