Episode one of the Disney+ show Ms Marvel is a thrilling display of culture and faith.
Some viewers have criticised the series for not being relatable enough, or too niche (read: Pakistani and Muslim), but it still has plenty of fans as it's currently the highest-scoring Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series, with online user reviews surpassing every other MCU movie, too. It even tops Black Panther, according to a recent Forbes report.
Scroll through the gallery below to see scenes from 'Ms Marvel'
The show shares the experiences of Muslim teen superhero Kamala Khan in New Jersey, US — played by Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellani. It is exactly what makes the show so unique, diverse and highly rated by this American-Pakistani writer.
As the first episode came to a close, I was in awe of how scriptwriters had woven cultural references into the storyline — from passages and prayers from the Quran to Urdu dialogue and music.
Then the credits rolled and I was completely won over with a punchy Urdu rap track Rozi by the Pakistani female rapper known as Eva B.
She is one of many Muslim women who are making their voices heard in spite of their faces being veiled. Saudi niqab-wearing influencer Amy Roko, for instance, also raps, and the past few years have seen a rise in niqabi creatives who are seeking to rectify stereotypes about face veils on social media.
But Eva laments the fact that the media coverage resulting from her song’s appearance on Ms Marvel has, for the most part, focused on her niqab.
“For no reason, these people are giving the niqab all this hype. They think niqabi girls don’t do anything. But I’m just as normal as any other regular girl here. There’s no need for the hype, I really don’t like it,” Eva, 23, tells The National.
“Nobody is forcing me to wear it. It’s my own decision to. It’s good that I can go out and about without being recognised.”
Rozi was produced with Los Angeles-based composer and singer Gingger Shankar. It was first created in 2019 and then reproduced for Ms Marvel.
“Gingger messaged and said the Ms Marvel team were asking for our track Rozi for their first episode, so we remade it,” says Eva, who wrote and rapped the lyrics about courage and confidence in the face of adversity.
“Whatever issues I’m having, or problems I’m facing, I write them into my lyrics — I empty my heart out into my lyrics,” Eva says.
She first started rapping at the age of 15, citing Eminem’s hit tracks Lose Yourself and Love the Way You Lie as some of her inspirations. She records lyrics in both Urdu and Balochi, an Iranian language spoken by those from the ethnic region of Balochistan.
Speaking in Urdu from her neighbourhood in Lyari, a densely populated part of Karachi, she says she noticed a spike in her fame after collaborating in a Coke Studio Pakistan song that aired on Pakistani TV in January.
The track, Kana Yaari, features her rapping in Balochi vocals, and sporting a bright orange outfit and matching niqab in the video. “After Coke Studio, the world came to know about me. The girl from Lyari who raps,” she says.
Yet, she has remained largely under the radar when out in public.
She keeps her face veiled in public, photos and performances, practising purdah — the wearing of a burka or abaya with a face covering.
“My brother said I should wear it while rapping so nobody could recognise me,” she explains. “I wear it generally, it’s our culture here in Lyari, it’s just my life, I don’t leave the house without my burka.”
Some ultra-conservative critics in Pakistan have questioned Eva for using her voice publicly.
“Lots of people commented and said a girl’s voice should also have purdah, blah blah blah,” says Eva. "It isn’t possible to please everyone."
She advises fellow South Asian women, who might be struggling to find a balance between societal norms and their own passions, to simply follow their dreams and drown out the critics.
“The world will keep talking, no matter who you are,” she says. “If you don’t do anything, they say: ‘She isn’t doing anything’, and if you do something, they say: ‘She’s doing too much'.
"Don’t listen to it. If someone says you need to become a tailor, but you want to become a model, focus on becoming a model, not a tailor. Whatever makes you happy, do that.”
Her words reflect the theme behind her Rozi lyrics, as well as the empowering messages conveyed in the first two episodes of Ms Marvel.
Unfortunately, Eva still hasn’t had a chance to start watching the series due to streaming limitations with Disney+, although the first two episodes are set to debut in cinemas across Pakistan this Thursday.
Meanwhile, many Marvel fans in the UAE, where Disney+ has recently launched, continue to wait for the platform to fix some of its streaming issues so that they, too, can witness the debut of Marvel’s first Muslim superhero — along with the incredible feat of this modest female rapper from Karachi.
Scroll through the gallery below to see Iman Vellani and co-stars at the 'Ms Marvel' premiere