5 Ridiculously Cool Brown Superheroes to Help Save Your Sanity

by Viren Shinde

Since it premiered on February 16, “Black Panther” has made nothing less than major waves. The highly anticipated film grossed more than $200 million during its opening weekend, having the most successful opening week of any Marvel film ever. It has since gone on to make almost $1.2 billion internationally, making it the 12th most profitable movie ever made.

However, the film has been much more than just a financial success. With Afrofuturist themes, a strong cast of female characters, and one of the most complex antagonists portrayed, “Black Panther” was unapologetic in its empowering visual themes and poignant social message: This is what it means to be black and a comic book superhero. It proved to the predominantly white male Hollywood industry that representation matters. The film has become a cultural phenomenon. It offers hope that this is just the beginning for minority filmmakers who want to tell big-budget stories. It offers hope for the many lesser-known minority heroes from comic lore, who represent strength, power and hope for underrepresented communities. But you don’t have to wait for them to make it to big screen. Here are five South Asian superheroes you need to know about right now. Because let’s be honest: We need someone to save our sanity, too.

Karima Shapandar

Omega Sentinel

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Her superhero alias: Omega Sentinel

Where you can find her: X-Men (Marvel Comics)

Her super story: Karima Shapandar, a.k.a. Omega Sentinel, made her debut in X-Men Unlimited #27 in the year 200 as a detective for the Indian National Police. During a case to find the missing son of the police chief, Shapandar was captured by an anti-mutant organization and transformed into a powerful and cybernetic Omega Sentinel. The enhancements gave her superhuman strength and several technological abilities, including holographic projections to flight and the ability to track anyone and anything.Though Shapandar was initially a villain in the X-Men comic run, programmed to destroy mutants, Professor X and Magneto, two of the X-men’s most recognizable characters, interrupted and erased that programming. Shapandar subsequently joined the X-men, still under the Omega Sentinel alias. She went on later to fight for both Professor X and Magneto. Shapandar’s current arc follows her journey to recover parts of her memory lost in an injury from her last expedition.

What makes her awesome: Part of what makes Shapandar so ridiculously cool is the parallels between her and many first-generation South Asians today. Themes of religious faith surround her character arc, and as a devout Hindu, Shapandar struggles to reconcile her faith and belief in karma with her new cybernetic body, which she views as a curse. She is unable to come to terms with what her identity is supposed to be. Her tale is a fish out of water story, with Shapandar forced to deal with situations out of her control.

Kamala Khan

Her superhero alias: Ms. Marvel

Where you can find her: The Avengers (Marvel Comics)

Her super story: Of all the superheroes on this list, most notable is Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. Making her debut in Captain Marvel #14 in the year 2013, Ms. Marvel went on to have her own successful solo series, with editor Sana Amanat even gaining praise from former President Barack Obama. Khan’s story is about a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager from New Jersey just trying to be “normal” as she struggles to navigate both her Pakistani and American identities. Her arc is as nuanced as the struggle itself. She comes from a strict Muslim family. Her mother doesn’t want her to talk with boys, her father wants her to grow up to be a doctor, and her brother holds very conservative beliefs. At school, Kamala constantly faces comments about her ethnicity, both derogatory and ignorant. She gains the ability to shapeshift and takes on the alter ego of Ms. Marvel, mirroring her blonde-haired, blue-eyed superhero idol Captain Marvel (who has her own movie set to release in March 2019 by Marvel Studios).

What makes her awesome: Khan’s powers are in and of themselves a metaphor for the identity conflict most first-generation South Asians face—particularly today. In the volatile political climate of the Trump presidency, Ms. Marvel became another symbol of resistance for minorities and young women throughout the nation. Writer of the series G. Willow Wilson has described Khan as being a character that is meant to resonate with “the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are.” Khan just happens to be a Muslim-American, making her story all the more powerful.

Aruna Shende

Aruna Shende
Photo Source: Writeups.org

Their superhero alias: Aruna

Where you can find them: DC Comics

Their super story: Aruna is perhaps the most complex yet least known character on this list. Aruna is a shapeshifter whose parents were never able to determine their gender. As such, they prefer the they/them/theirs pronouns (although in the comics, Aruna is usually depicted in the female form). Adding another layer of complexity to her character, Aruna is born to a Dalit family. Dalits are a heavily marginalized group still face extreme discrimination and lack many of the basic rights and protections granted to individuals of higher caste. Ranked the lowest in the Indian caste system, those in the Dalit class are often referred to as “Untouchables” and are simply denied many of the privileges granted to those in higher castes. Aruna made their debut in the Batgirl Annual issue in 2000, which ended up being their only performance. Although they had a positive relationship with their parents, Aruna was forced to flee from them very early on in their childhood by a group of mysterious men in suits. Aruna discovered shapeshifting powers when confronted by a group of male bullies and used the powers to ward them off. They then took advantage of their special ability to break into the Bollywood film industry as a successful actor and special effects artist. Aruna collided with Batgirl and Batman when the Gotham City duo came to Madras to investigate the kidnapping of a teenage movie star.

What makes her awesome: Even though Aruna was only shown in a single comic run, their arc explored the proclivities of gender identity and fluidity, as well as the uncertainty and lack of a sense of belonging that came with those struggles. Aruna was often existential in thought, and, due to their upbringing in a Dalit family, always had a penchant for social justice. As both America and India begin to have societal conversations on privilege and representation, Aruna serves as a symbol of intersectionality, reminding us that feminism and social justice are for everyone, regardless of privilege.

Priya Shakti

Her superhero alias: Priya Shakti

Where you can find her: PriyaShakti.com

Her super story: Priya Shakti is a character who symbolizes empowerment and nonviolence and is a voice for both survivors of assault and their allies. Created as a response to the 2012 gang rape in Dehli by writer and filmmaker Ram Devineni, Priya Shakti’s comic, which can be downloaded for free online, reflects the deeply entrenched male-dominated culture of India and how survivors of rape and sexual assault are not given the support—emotional, financial, or otherwise—that they need. Devineni chose deliberately to have Priya come from a rural family so as to appeal to as many individuals as possible. Her story is also purposely set against the backdrop of Hinduism and its mythology, the religion of choice for about 80 percent of India’s population. Since her debut, Priya Shakti has been sparking conversations about social issues and has leapt off her comic panels to augmented reality art murals, as well as becoming one of the symbols of the nationwide protests against the 2012 Delhi rape case. Though her comic only spans two issues at the moment, Priya Shakti has most certainly been making waves internationally.

Why she’s awesome: Priya Shakti’s story is still influential with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, challenging the constructs of rape culture and misogyny, as well as giving voice to and supporting those who have survived sexual assault or misconduct. Priya is not your typical superhero. She doesn’t wear a cape or a mask and doesn’t possess the usual superpowers of physical strength, flight, invisibility, etc. Instead, Priya Shakti possesses the ability to change minds, granted to her by the goddess Parvati herself. Her sidekick? A tiger. Her arch-nemesis? Gender-crimes and the patriarchy.

Faiza Hussain

Faiza Hussain
Photo Source: Fandom

Her superhero alias: Excalibur

Where you can find her: MI-13 (Marvel Comics)

Her super story: Faiza Hussain, a.k.a. Excalibur, debuted in Captain Britain and MI-13 #1 in the summer of 2008, created by writer Paul Cornell with input from a panel of Muslim women.Hussain had a particular fascination for Marvel’s team of British superheroes, The Knights of Pendragon, and looked up to them and the ideals they stood for. Deciding to pursue a career as a medical doctor in Britain, Hussain found herself working triage during a full-on invasion by an alien species known as The Skrulls (who are the antagonists in the upcoming Captain Marvel film). She was knocked out when her base of operations was attacked and, in her unconscious state, dreamt of Excalibur. When she came to, she discovered that her medical knowledge and skills were vastly expanded. Hussain gained the power to completely disassemble and reassemble any individual or object down to their atomic components without causing them pain. When The Skrulls were defeated by The Knights with the sword Excalibur, Hussain rose up and pulled the sword out of the stone where it was left, thus taking on the moniker of Excalibur for herself.

What makes her awesome: Cornell wrote Hussain to be very connected to her faith but made sure she didn’t “represent the entire British Muslim world all the time.” Cornell describes Hussain as a character with heart and soul who is still very much into “mainstream British young woman culture.” Her down-to-earth personality and fascination for all things pop culture and social media despite her tremendous abilities make Hussain a quintessentially relatable superhero.

By Viren Shinde

Viren Shinde is a programmer by day, a photographer and writer by night, and a consumer of all things caffeine … Read more ›

Pyar is Pyar: A Celebration of Queer Brown Love

An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.

The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.

[Read Related: Family, Friends, and Faith: The Evolution of Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies]

Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.


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Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.

“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”

“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.

Jain and Mehta are leading a legal effort to bring marriage equality to India, taking them to the country’s Supreme Court. The couple was denied recognition of their marriage in 2020, despite the country’s Foreign Marriage Act that allows the marriage of Indian citizens abroad to be recognized.

“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”

“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”

“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.

Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.

Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.

Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.

“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”

Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need. 

[Read Related: Allies to Advocates: Desi Rainbow Parents and Allies Empower Transformation]

“Your coming out in support of us is the pivotal shift that we need to change attitudes in our community,” she said.

Among the South Asian queer leaders and allies in attendance were actors Kal Penn and Sarita Choudhury, activist Alok Vaid-Menon, and the legendary DJ Rekha.

To learn more about Desi Rainbow, visit their website

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tedesco-Barker

By Stephen Jiwanmall

Born in Philadelphia, Stephen has family roots in India and Pakistan. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his husband and … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

[Read Related: Brown Boy Interview Series: In Conversation With Sanjoy]

What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

[Read Related: Brown Boy Interview Series: In Conversation With KSHMR]


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What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

[Read Related: Jai Wolf: First Bangladeshi Artist to Headline Red Rocks Amphitheatre]

What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.


Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.


I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›