NEW DELHI: Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloe Zhao says Kingo in "Eternals" is a character that "loves pop culture and showmanship", which is why making him a Bollywood star grooving to a "beautiful, joyous dance sequence" in the big Marvel movie felt "incredible".
The "Nomadland" director said Kingo, played by Pakistani-American star Kumail Nanjiani, was always supposed to be a Bollywood hero.
"When I came into the process, there was a treatment and in the treatment, there are always stories and parts that take place in Mumbai. Kingo is a Bollywood star in the present day and I thought that was so interesting because we knew Kingo is going to be a character that embraced the side of humanity that loves pop culture, that loves storytelling, that showmanship," Zhao said responding to a question from PTI during a round table interview with international journalists over Zoom.
On bringing together different cultural elements to a superhero film, the Chinese-American director said the character arc of Kingo is a breath of fresh air.
"It was interesting to see the writers and the Marvel team did not just make him a Hollywood star since we've seen him in many times, but really to make him a Bollywood star and also have this beautiful, joyous dance sequence. I thought it's incredible to include in a big Marvel movie," she added.
"Eternals" introduces audiences to 10 never-seen-before superheroes, played by some of the biggest names in Hollywood such as Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, ''Game of Thrones'' stars Richard Madden and Kit Harington, Gemma Chan, Nanjiani and Don Lee.
Nanjiani recently revealed that he had initially expressed his inability to dance but Zhao tricked him by promising to change the segment to an action scene only to keep the dance sequence intact.
The Eternals are an alien race living on Earth for over 7,000 years who team up to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
Zhao, something of a wunderkind in Hollywood for her distinct and independent films that deal with humane stories, said she always wanted to direct a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is known for its blockbuster superhero movies.
"I wanted this so bad because I wanted to work with the team at Marvel because I love the movies. Also with this particular story, I felt like I have something to offer. And it's a story that would address questions that I have for myself as a human being. So, I knew the making of that will allow me to grow," the 39-year-old filmmaker explained.
Zhao, whose debut film was "Songs My Brother Taught Me" which she followed by the critically-acclaimed "The Rider", attracted global attention with "Nomadland", a film that focuses on a woman who leaves home and decides to become a nomad after her husband dies and she loses her job.
Earlier this year at the Academy Awards ceremony, "Nomadland" won the trophies for best film, best actor for Frances McDormand and best director for Zhao, who became the only second woman and the first East Asian to win the Oscar trophy in the category.
Asked about Zhao's interest in themes of belonging and the idea of home in her stories, the director said these concepts occupy her mind lately.
"I've been thinking about us as a species, like as humanity, we are literally thinking about leaving the planet and going somewhere else.
As a species, we're always trying to leave home and search for something else -- meaning, land, gold, opportunity -- whatever it is.
"And then in the end, when we get older we always end up wanting to go home. As I am getting older, I think about these themes quite a lot, you know, belonging and home," she said.
But isn't there a worry that such themes may get lost in translation in a superhero movie? Zhao said that's a worry she constantly grapples with as a filmmaker.
"Every film I make I worry that it is gonna get lost in translation and you never know. That's the thing, I try not to go there," she told PTI.
"When a film is done in this moment right now, this movie ('Eternals') is more yours than mine. So I have no control of that and the chemistry of where we are in the world now," she said, citing the example of "Nomadland", which struck a chord with people during the pandemic.
"I had no idea how that film was gonna relate to people when I made it. So I will say it is part of the job."
Asked about plans for a possible sequel, Zhao said she and the team at Marvel were "really encouraged to make a stand-alone and really make make a film outside of the main storyline".
"Eternals" has "repercussions for the future" but the director said they have to see how the film interacts with the world and grows.
"We will make future plans once we look at that," she said.
As a fan of superhero and ensemble films in the past, Zhao said she was inspired by a lot of movies to tell the story of these brand new characters.
"It's so nice to watch these people who don't agree with each other or come from different walks of life, and find commonality, something worth fighting for, together.
That's something I think as human beings, we like to watch because we hope that we can all find common ground and things that are worth fighting for."
''Eternals'' is set for release in Indian theatres on November 5 in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.