Though she knows Eternals’ Kingo, Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan is a bigger fan of a real-life Bollywood legend who has even made his own superhero movie.
The following contains spoilers for Ms. Marvel Episode 2, “Crushed,” now streaming on Disney+.
Ms. Marvel has taken care to display the ups and downs of Kamala Khan’s life in high school. One of the definite ups is Kamran, the new kid in town who has a dazzling wit and a clear fondness for the young heroine. The early steps of their relationship has been one of the early joys of the series, as well as the emotional centerpiece for Season 1, Episode 2, “Crushed.”
Among their shared interests is a love of Bollywood, and more particularly an actor named Shah Rukh Khan. Though comparatively obscure in the West, he’s one of India’s biggest and most enduring stars, with over 80 movies on a resume stretching back decades. And while some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Bollywood stars are fictional, Kamala’s stated favorite is the real deal. He’s even made a superhero movie.
Khan also goes by the initials “SRK,” which Kamala and Kamran drop during their conversation. He began his career in television before shifting to movies in 1991, which he told India Today was in response to the death of his mother. His success there was quick and fueled a rapid rise, punctuated by the romantic drama Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995. It was the country’s biggest box-office success that year and turned its star into a phenomenon. Kamala mentions the movie by its handle “DDLJ” during her talk in the car with Kamran in “Crushed.”
Though he gained early notice for his star presence, the actor’s biggest asset is his range, which has led to a staggering variety of memorable roles. He cut his teeth early on playing sympathetic anti-heroes in films like the 1993 thriller Baazigar. That shifted to romantic dramas like DDLJ and 1998’s Dil se.. where he plays a radio executive who becomes involved with a beautiful criminal. (The latter produced a showstopping musical number atop a moving train, “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” which gained some attention in the West when Spike Lee used the music in his 2006 film Inside Man.)
Dual roles, in particular, have become a staple of his work, ranging from a loveless businessman and the Jinn who replaces him in the 2005 fantasy Paheli to a seemingly unstoppable master criminal in the two Don movies. That trend included his most notable foray into big-budget superhero films. 2011’s Ra.One sees him playing a video game designer whose villainous creation escapes into the real world, as well as the hero he brings out of the game to set things right.
In Ms. Marvel, the actor’s work becomes an instant talking point between Kamala and Kamran. The films they discuss rank among his biggest crowd-pleasers, but more importantly, they establish a common point of reference for the two to connect. Given subsequent revelations, his professed fandom may not be genuine, but it’s still the primary point by which the two connect.
It’s more telling – and indeed a sign of Khan’s real-life stardom – that his work was emphasized over a prominent MCU Easter egg. Mention of a real Bollywood star prompts Kamran to bring up a fictional one: Kingo from Eternals, who has hidden his immortality by appearing as the son of an acting dynasty. It’s a clever nod, and Ms. Marvel could have left it there. Mentioning Khan gives it an extra touch of the authentic, as well as a few movies MCU fans can add to their viewing list.
New episodes of Ms. Marvel stream every Wednesday on Disney+.
A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, Mania.com and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.