‘When people would tell me that any actor would give his left arm to be seen in a single frame of a Marvel project without even a single line of dialogue, I would laugh them off.’
‘For me, Ms Marvel was just another acting job.’
He was the first South Asian actor to host a South Asian game show, Saanp Seedi, on India’s first satellite channel, Zee TV. Three decades later, he has taken a South Asian family into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Mohan Kapur cannot be happier.
And as he reveals in a two-part conversation with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya this rishta is not ending anytime soon.
How different is the Marvel Cinematic Universe from other cinematic universes?
Well, Marvel being the largest production house, the scale of its projects is there for the world to see.
Also, the writing, which has helped create this universe, is immaculate.
They make a superhero who gets a standalone film or two, then they cross-pollinate this character with other superheroes.
They become Avengers and play out Infinity Wars.
Has Ms. Marvel extended your reach as an actor?
Since I’m not a die-hard fan but just a member of the audience enjoying the universe in the theatre with popcorn and soda, I didn’t realise the scale and penetration of a Marvel production till the mini-series dropped.
Yes, I was excited about doing a Hollywood production, but when people would tell me that any actor would give his left arm to be seen in a single frame of a Marvel project without even a single line of dialogue, I would laugh them off.
For me, it was just another acting job, a supporting role at that, and I had never imagined that playing a dad would get me so much attention.
People are noticing nuances — a subtle smile or an expression of disappointment — which came organically on the day of the shoot and which I’d since forgotten.
Any more Hollywood offers?
They were coming even before Ms Marvel released; some in London, some in the US.
My agent in LA and I are figuring out which is the better script and other details.
You have dubbed for every big Hollywood franchise… Die Hard, Avengers, Dark Night, Spider Man, X Men, Fast & Furious… How different is lending your voice to a big-ticket film to being seen in one?
Yes, I have lent my voice and language to various actors and characters over the last 30 years, but dubbing is only an audio-based involvement, what I call ‘voice acting’.
The actors speak in English, but since you are dubbing the same lines in Hindi, you have to get a sense of the dialogue and make it relatable to the Indian audience while ensuring your lips sync with theirs.
Also, if the character is smiling, you have to bring a smile into your voice and if he is frowning, an undercurrent of anger.
During Live Free or Die Hard, when dubbing for Bruce Willis’s iconic character, I had to imitate John McClaine’s distinctive laidback swag and underline his sardonic humour.
Voicing for Tom Hardy’s Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was tricky since he wears a mask and I couldn’t read his lips.
I could barely see the expression in his eyes and had to rely entirely on his voice while replicating Bane’s lilting, sing-song delivery.
Dubbing is fun, but also a huge challenge.
Back in the’90s, you were the first South Asian host for the first South Asian show, Saanp Seedhi. Today, you have brought a South Asian family into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How does it feel?
It’s a privilege, being an Indian and getting a chance to play a Pakistani dad to kids settled in New Jersey in a Hollywood production.
When you talk of representation, this is a perfect example.
Interestingly, Iman Vellani, who plays Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel, is a Pakistani born and brought up in Canada while Sagar Shaikh, her brother Aamir Khan in the series, is a Pakistani, born and brought up in Texas.
Zenobia Shroff, who plays their mothers and my wife, Muneeba Khan, is a Parsi lady from Mumbai who has been living in New York for the past 30 years.
The casting was bang on and we slipped into our characters naturally and effortlessly without having to sit for readings to discuss culture and ethnic diversity.
Yes, the Khan family seems so real.
That’s what my younger friends in America, die-hard Marvel fans, say too, raving that Ms. Marvel is rooted and real in a larger-than-life Marvel universe where the most relatable character is Iron Man without his suit.
Kamala could well be Malala with superpowers, a young girl who lives with her family in a land that is not their own, but one that they call home.
At the heart of the story is not a superhero, but a young immigrant girl gifted with super powers, her Muslim family and community, and that’s caught people’s fancy.
Full credit to the writers and directors, many immigrants themselves, with the result that the characters are not caricatures and the lines are not cliches.
Minute nuances have been kept in mind with respect to art direction, costumes, even the food that is served.
I’ve been doing Hindi films for over three decades, but I danced to a Bollywood song for the first time in a Marvel production.
How bizarre is that!
Was it tough?
Nerve racking, and I’d been rehearsing my steps all day till it struck me that I didn’t have to be Shah Rukh Khan or Hrithik Roshan, I was a dad dancing at my son’s wedding so I just had to have fun.
I learnt my steps, but I didn’t focus on them, sometimes even purposely missing a step so I could get that “Oh man I forget, but it’s all right!” expression on my face.
Five years from now, how will you remember Ms. Marvel?
Hopefully, as a series that changed my life.
Even if it doesn’t, it will always be a huge moment in my life.
As I said on the red carpet, I never had the audacity to dream of going to Hollywood, doing a Marvel film, walking the red carpet in LA’s film district.
But now, I’m living that dream.
In a cross-pollination, will we see the Khan family in an Avengers or Iron Man franchise?
We have already shot in London with Ms Marvel going into Captain America 2 called The Marvel.
And since we are a typical South Asian family, we follow her, wondering why she’s out at night and if she’s in any danger.
Don’t Miss the Fascinating Part 2 on Monday!
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