KARACHI: Pakistan’s two-time Oscar winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who co-directed Ms. Marvel, an American television mini-series, told Arab News in a recent interview that her latest venture would introduce the world to a different kind of superhero whose onscreen presence would be a tribute to immigrants around the world.
Ms. Marvel, is the story of a Pakistani-American teenager, Kamala Khan, who finds her powers amid her day-to-day struggles.
The series will be streamed from June 8 on Disney Plus, a platform currently unavailable in Pakistan, though local viewers will be able to watch its episodes in cinemas in all the major cities.
“Ms. Marvel is a celebration of being an immigrant,” Obaid-Chinoy said in a wide-ranging interview on Saturday. “When you watch Ms. Marvel, you will hear music that you are familiar with, you will see food that you have consumed yourself.”
“It’s a celebration of our textures and fabrics and our holidays and rituals,” she added. “And it’s a real celebration of being South Asian. She [Kamala] is a first generation Pakistani-American, and it is her desire to become a superhero.”
The Pakistani filmmaker said many young people around the world would see a reflection of themselves in Ms. Marvel.
“I would say it’s a coming-of-age story of a young woman in New Jersey,” she continued. “What is special about it is that for the first time in the Marvel Universe, they are introducing an immigrant, brown, South Asian, Muslim girl.”
Describing the lead character of the mini-series, she said Kalama “is funny and quirky who loves Captain Marvel.”
Asked about the significance of the American mini-series in her own career, Obaid-Chinoy said she wanted to move into narrative fiction filmmaking after producing several documentaries and animations, though she had been waiting for the right project which she found in Ms. Marvel.
“Ms. Marvel has a purpose,” she said. “When you look at it, you realize that a superhero can be anyone … The color of your skin, your religion, where you come from, don’t matter.”
The Pakistani Oscar winner also passionately spoke about investment in the local film industry, saying it was vital to nurture producers, directors, cinematographers and actors who had the ability to compete internationally.
Some filmmakers, she added, were still leaving their mark globally without all these necessary resources.
“For the first time we have a film at Cannes this year … which is incredible,” she said.
She maintained that Pakistani cinema did not have a narrative at this stage, adding that a lot of films looked like Bollywood productions.
“My hope is that we find our original voice,” she continued, “one that we can stay true to.”
Obaid-Chinoy said she cared about local cinema which also explained why she decided to launch Patakha Pictures that provided funding and mentorship grants to nurture the next generation of filmmakers in Pakistan, particularly female directors and producers.
She dismissed the perception that her films were only meant for international audiences, saying she had released three films in Pakistani cinemas in the last five to six years. However, she added that filmmakers should try to produce content for both local and international markets.
“For me, both things have to go along, because the Pakistani market is very small,” she said. “There are very limited resources here. And I want to compete with the world. Why should I just compete [in] Pakistan?”
Asked if streaming services constituted a threat to the cinema, she said there was a global trend to release films in cinema houses for a limited period before moving them to streaming services.
“That doesn’t mean that cinema houses are closing,” she said. “It just means that the business model is adapting to different things.”
The Pakistani filmmaker recalled there were similar concerns when video home systems were introduced, making some people nervous since they thought everyone would begin to watch everything at home. Decades later, however, people were still going to cinema houses to watch their favorite flicks.
“There is something very special about the magic of cinema,” Obaid-Chinoy said. “I don’t think that that will change.”