Bollywood Legend Farhan Akhtar Reflects On His Ms. Marvel Appearance And Making Exposition Compelling [Interview]

It's not every day that I get to talk to a living legend who even my largely pop culture-illiterate parents would positively swoon over. For those in the West who may not be familiar with the work of Farhan Akhtar, well, look no further than this helpful guide recently put together by /Film's Debopriyaa Dutta. But otherwise, it's difficult to describe the sheer amount of influence and aura that the Bollywood icon has amassed over the years. Perhaps the purest definition of a true multi-hyphenate, the Mumbai-born Akhtar has been an award-winning actor, an extraordinarily popular filmmaker, a veteran screenwriter and producer, and has even added singing to his prolific résumé.

For countless South Asians, the foremost question whenever his name comes up remains whether Akhtar will ever move forward with "Don 3," the potential trilogy-capper to his immensely successful action movies that star none other than fellow legend Shah Rukh Khan and popular Indian actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas. But seeing him pop up in the latest episode of "Ms. Marvel," to put it lightly, is as unexpected as it gets. Although seemingly only a one-and-done appearance as the mysterious Waleed, Akhtar is perfectly cast as the mentor figure who explains Kamala Khan's (Iman Vellani) place in this much larger universe full of multidimensional djinns, knife-wielding allies, and her own heavy mantle of superpowers.

In an interview over Zoom, I simply had to ask him about his symbolic importance of appearing in a mainstream franchise like the MCU, whether he might consider directing a Marvel movie or show, and that little mind-bending paradox of whether Farhan Akhtar actually exists in the Marvel Universe.

'It's slowly but surely dawning on me that this is a very special moment'

First things first: Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you about "Don 3." [Laughs] We're going to keep this strictly business here. But I do have to ask you, in an earlier episode in "Ms. Marvel," the characters discussed their favorite Shah Rukh Khan movies, confirming that he does exist in the MCU. Obviously you've directed Shah Rukh Khan before in a couple movies. Now you've shown up in "Ms. Marvel." Does Farhan Akhtar exist in the MCU, too? Is Waleed aware and is he a little like, "Hey that guy looks like me?"

[Laughs] No, he's not. But now that you mention it, I think maybe when you first saw Waleed, he should have entered and said, "You know, I think Don is Shah Rukh's best friend." [Laughs] That would've been really confusing for the audience.

On a more serious note.


From what I've seen, the predominant reaction to you appearing in this episode is, "I can't believe Farhan Akhtar is in the MCU, in a franchise as big as this." This might seem like a strange question, but are you aware of how big of a deal it is for South Asians for you to be in a show like this?

I'm learning more and more about that [laughs], to be honest. For me, to start with, I was really excited about being in it. When I first got to know that this is on offer and that it's possible to be doing this, I was really excited about doing it. Then when I saw the reaction of my 14-year-old daughter, who was probably the happiest I've ever seen her with any kind of work that I do. You know, like, "This is something I want to see." Then I'm like, "But what about all that wonderful stuff that I've done for the last 20 years?" [Laughs] "That can wait."

I mean, I did start getting a sense that this is a big deal. Now that it's out there and the love and messages that I'm getting from friends and family and different people from different parts of the world, about how nice it is to see, to see me, in this show. It's slowly but surely dawning on me that this is a very special moment.

'Its simple storytelling, but it's very effective storytelling'

Now, Marvel movies have typically performed well at the box office in India, specifically. Was this a franchise you maybe always had your eye on to join over the years? What was the process like of Marvel contacting you to be cast for this?

You know, the thing is, from the time that I've been watching Marvel movies, being in the field itself of film, of course, you watch a great film and this really entertaining movie, and there's a part of you that does feel like, "Wow, it would be so nice to be a part of something like this." But you honestly don't really think that it's going to happen. It would be a bit presumptuous to feel that, "Oh, someday they're going to call me." [Laughs] You don't think about that stuff. So when it does, it feels very surreal that it happened. It really is.

They've done such incredible storytelling. There's one side of it, which of course is the visual effects side of it. Just the scale, the action, and all these great actors that are coming in to play these parts. But they are great storytellers and that's what really, really works. It's simple storytelling, but it's very effective storytelling. And to be able to do that consistently with so many different characters and so many different films, sequels, and shows over the years, it's not an easy accomplishment. So when they were doing this and they reached out, I immediately knew that this was going to be special, because they are charting some new territory here with the culture that they're tapping into, with the characters that they're creating. Something new is happening here. And it was a great opportunity and very exciting to be a part of that.

Is there any actual interest in maybe stepping behind the camera and directing a show or one of these movies at all?

That would be amazing too, absolutely. Again, these are opportunities that, if they come along, you should really consider yourself lucky. From whoever I met when we were doing this thing, I think each and every one of them know what I do, in terms of the kind of work that I do. If there's anything that they feel that they want to call me up for, I'm always going to be there.

'We wanted to create something that would be more father/daughter'

In this most recent episode, you're tasked with delivering a lot of exposition. 


That's kind of a common theme in a lot of Marvel movies and shows over the years and a lot of actors can struggle with that. For you personally, how did you deal with making those scenes more interesting than they could have been otherwise?

Thank you, that's a good question. The approach really was to not think of it as imparting knowledge. I wanted to stay away from that aspect of it. Because than then just becomes a bulky scene where you're just giving information that the character and people need to hear so that you can move along with the story. Although that does need to happen, the layer that really was the focus and that needed to override this layer of exposition was of affection towards Kamala.

I think that's what was crucial. So in terms of the way he speaks with her, the way he looks at her, the way he smiles when she understands things, when she finds within herself a certain power that she can do, the handing over of the cloak to her. All these things, we wanted to create something that would be more father/daughter. When you see your child learning something or accomplishing something, the pride that you feel and the joy that you feel, you can't contain it within yourself. It comes out from your pores. It comes out from your eyes, your smile shares that joy. That is something that, for me, those seem special if that gets conveyed. That's really what the focus was. I'm like, "I love this girl. I'm going to tell her what I have to tell her, but I need her to feel my love. I cannot say the words I love you. I want you to feel it." And if that can happen, then the audience will feel that.

New episodes of "Ms. Marvel" stream on Disney+ every Wednesday.