Remember when Kumail Nanjiani first posted that Instagram pic showing his new look for “Eternals?” That was probably the earliest instance where the actor, best known for his stand-up comedy, co-writers, and lead actors in “The Big Sick” and in “Silicon Valley,” found himself becoming something of a lightning rod in regards to the frankly alarming body norms that Marvel helped normalize.
There are several complex parts to that discussion, such as the undeniably racially tinged body-shaming Nanjiani did by simply doing what his white co-stars have been doing since the MCU’s inception. But there’s also the equally hard-to-ignore fact that the process of getting in shape to such an extreme degree is both unhealthy — intentional dehydration is a common way to achieve the “washboard abs” look — and the “ideal” one. standard further reinforces that men (and especially South Asian men) are conditioned to internalize.
In a profile with GQ, Nanjiani is well aware of this overarching conversation and his own place in it. “I’ve found in the past year and a half, since I took that photo, that I feel very uncomfortable talking about my body — and it’s gotten less and less comfortable.” While doing his utmost to take ownership of the fact that he chose to make this change to his body, the actor also admits that this “upsets” his “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao, who adding her own perspective that she just “…wanted to make sure he didn’t feel like he had to do it for me.” Alluding to his responsibility to add highly anticipated representation to the Marvel franchise and his character’s disguise as a Bollywood star (who are usually portrayed as brawny action heroes), Nanjiani says:
“When I play the first South Asian superhero, I want to look like someone who can take on Thor or Captain America, or one of those people.
From the 60s to the 90s I actually know every big one [Bollywood star]. I was like, I want this to be believable. I want to feel so powerful in this role.”