To those familiar with Bollywood, Farhan Akhtar is a name you will have most definitely heard of before. Being the second child of two screenwriters made Akhtar practically destined for the screen. His career began in 2001 when he made his screenwriting and directorial debut with the coming-of-age piece Dil Chahta Hai. Seven years later, he also began a career in acting with the critically acclaimed hit Rock On!!, intermittently moving between roles both in front and behind the camera on future projects.
Now, with an already very successful and extensive Bollywood resume, Akhtar is making his Hollywood debut by stepping into the MCU with Ms. Marvel. His character is first introduced to the audience in episode four, while Kamala begins her superhero adventures in Karachi, Pakistan. Waleed is the leader of the Red Daggers, an underground organization sworn to protect the country and its culture from unseen threats and a critical piece in the puzzle Kamala is attempting to solve about her origins. Following our exclusive sit-downs with Red Dagger star Aramis Knight and Ms. Marvel director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, we asked Farhan Akhtar all about his experience working on the Marvel Studios production.
Spoilers for Ms. Marvel follow!
How does it feel to step into the vast world of the MCU at this moment in time?
Farhan Akhtar: It’s exciting, but also very surreal because it’s not one of those things that you think will happen. It took a show like Ms. Marvel to come along where there were characters who are predominantly from this specific subcontinent, and it plays out predominantly in Pakistan. So it was great when my agent reached out and said that this was the show that Marvel is working on and it’s about a Pakistani Muslim girl who is a superhero.
It really is the first of its kind with the culture that it taps into. The traditions, folklore, and stories that it talks about are tales that belong to this part of the world. So it felt really special and I was pretty sure that once I heard what it was about that I really needed to get on board and be a part of this.
When it comes to the relationship between Waleed and Kareem, how do you interpret their dynamic with the Red Daggers?
Farhan Akhtar: I used to keep telling Aramis [Knight] that I found him abandoned on the street and I trained him because I saw good in him. He is like an adopted son to Waleed because he’s actually the only other Red Dagger that you do see in the show. Apart from the whole mentor and mentee dynamic, there is also a father-son relationship.
Although we’ve gotten some context so far, could you elaborate on what the Red Daggers’ mission and purpose are?
Farhan Akhtar: The Red Daggers are people who have sworn to protect the bangle at all costs, and make sure that the two worlds, the djinn world and the real world, don’t ever clash. As the episodes progress, you will find out a little bit more about their history and what that means. This is why Kamala is so special, Waleed realizes that there is history with Kamala and the bangle. It belongs to Kamala, with the way she reacts and responds to it. So he must protect her at all costs because she’s the secret to destroying the ClanDestine.
What was it like collaborating with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as a director?
Farhan Akhtar: She was great. If there was anyone that I needed coming in from the cold to steer me along and make sure that the direction I was taking with Waleed was the right one, it was her. It would have not been as easy to do if it wasn’t for her. What she saw in Waleed and what she thought he represented, not just for the show, but also for Kamala. All that information and all those emotional impulses, all came from Sharmeen. I’m very grateful to her, she made it easy for me as an actor.
What was it like shooting scenes set in Karachi actually in Thailand, did being on set still feel immersive?
Farhan Akhtar: I remember when I went on set, it absolutely felt like we were in the subcontinent somewhere. I haven’t been to Karachi, so I really don’t know what the streets look like, but Sharmeen is very well aware of what they look like. I mean, the fact is that there is only so much difference one can imagine between streets in Northern India and in Karachi. They’re so close to each other. So it did feel like you were in the subcontinent for sure, and it didn’t feel like you were in Thailand at all.
To finish off, Iman Vellani who acts opposite you as Kamla Khan is a newcomer to this industry, what was it like working with her and did you perhaps give her any advice?
Farhan Akhtar: Iman honestly did not need advice from anyone. She’s absolutely incredible and knew exactly what she was doing. She knew what kind of character she was creating. I loved working with her. I wish her the best and think she’s got a long career ahead of her. I just hope that she makes all the right choices because that’s very important. But whatever she does choose, she’s going to be good at it because she has a natural gift for sure.