South Asian characters imagined through a western lens are often built on stereotypes and lack any relevance with the masses who feel alienated with the homogeneous portrayal of their cultural identity. In the superhero realm, before the acclaimed series ‘Ms. Marvel’, we rarely saw an honest portrayal of South Asians that did not seem like mere surface-level representation. The audience has always yearned for a story that is rooted in similar experiences and captures the diverse native motifs of the region.
Peter Parker's Indian counterpart Pavitr Prabhakar manages to achieve just that. The comic character was conceptualised by movie maestro Satyajit Ray, who even pitched the idea to Stan Lee decades ago. This was long before the multiverse became a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline and the concept was shelved indefinitely. However in 2005 a marvel comic series named ‘Spider-Man India’ written by writers Jeevan Kang, Sharad Devarajan, and Suresh Seetharaman was finally brought to reality.
The story of Pavitr is set in Mumbatten (Mumbai) featuring integral characters from the original Spider-Man mythos but with Indian names and characteristics. Mary Jane was reimagined as Mira Jain and Uncle Ben turned into Uncle Bhim. According to DailyO, the young hero sported a white dhoti (pants) and jooti’s (sandals), trying to make it big in a metropolitan city after leaving his hometown. As opposed to the American version Pavitr does not get bitten by a radioactive spider but instead encounters a mystical yogi who informs him of his destiny and hands him an Indianised Spider-Man costume.
Unfortunately the story could not capture the imagination of the modern Indian audience residing in urban cities due to the lack of relevance, which is where the recent spider-verse series makes a key difference. The first two movies of the series are set to release on 1st June 2023, marking Pavitr's comeback as he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting the universe’s very existence. Switching his simple white dhoti with a stylish blue one, he is decked in a suit that is embellished with unique Indian motifs.
This savvy new version is also voiced in Hindi by Indian cricketer Shubham Gill, whereas the Indian-American actor Karan Soni has dubbed the English version. The movie is set against backdrops of Mumbai and captures unique cultural idiocracies. It is truly making space for more honest and real portrayals of South Asian narratives that resonate with younger audiences and will hopefully allow for space for more to come, both in the Marvel universe and beyond.
You watch the Hindi trailer here.
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