Cora, as voiced by Sushant Divgikr in Marvel’s Wastelanders: I’m hoping this will give LGBTQ youth the confidence they need to change the world
Sushant Divgikr a.k.a. Rani KoHEnur, an actor, musician, and activist, is in a class by themselves, venturing boldly to a galaxy far, far away in Marvel’s Wastelanders podcast.
Now, Divgikr can count himself among the select few LGBTQIA+ characters to join the Marvel MU. They provide the voice of Cora, the Rigellian Recorder, who follows the Guardians of the Galaxy into the Black Vortex to capture their adventures.
In an exclusive conversation. Sushant discussed playing Cora, whom they refer to as “Alexa’s cousin in the MEU,” the importance of representation even in Indian films, and hints at a potential Bollywood film debut. Excerpts:
How thrilled are you, Sushant, to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Sushant: I’ve always been a big admirer of Marvel. I grew up with brothers, and hearing them talk about these people piqued my interest, so I started reading about them. There weren’t any podcasts or audio dramas to introduce us to these folks, but there were other ways we learned about them nonetheless. But I never imagined that I would be one of them, much less portray them so beautifully.
A Rigellian Recorder was a difficult instrument to master. Basically, Marvel’s Wastelanders in the Marvel universe, I am Alexa’s cousin. I’d like to thank everyone on the team for their assistance; I now have a much better grasp of the subtleties involved in effective communication and voice modulation. It was a wonderful but challenging experience.
Seeing as you brought up your brothers, I’m curious to know how they reacted when you told them you’d been cast as Cora.
Sushant: I’ll tell you the truth; they were envious, and it made me happy. My brothers always got action figures from our aunts, and I always got dolls. Of course, I’ve outed myself as transgender recently, but my Marvel’s Wastelanders fandom was a complete surprise. I had him drop me off at the studio on purpose. I may as well have rubbed it in. He would never go much closer than this. They were naturally envious because of this. There is no way around it.
Which fictional heroes and villains did you most identify with as a kid?
Sushant: After performing the role of Cora, I can honestly state that she is one of my favourite. However, this character is gender-neutral because it is a recorder. Wow, that’s stunning.
The fact that a figure like Cora was portrayed by someone who does not identify inside the confines of gender was something I greatly appreciated. In my opinion, the casting was spot on.
If I had to pick a favourite, though, it would be Ms. Marvel. In fact, Star-Lord is one of my favourite characters because of how handsome he is. In this series, I think you’ll really come to know the real Star-Lord and he’ll receive his moment of glory.
And of course, can we be straightforward and call her Black Widow?
Maybe you’d rather have been the voice of Black Widow.
Let Kareena Kapoor Khan handle it, Sushant says. For now, I’ll take Cora.
Explain what it was about Cora’s experience that moved you. The Rigellian Recorder is primarily an observer of the multiverse and rarely attempts to alter its course in the comics. Can you identify with this person?
Sushant: Given that this is an audio series, I certainly hope that this is what the listener takes away from it. For the simple reason that doing so will ruin it. I would have them think I’m just a bystander.
What I appreciated most about Cora, however, was her ability to listen to others rather than interrupt them. And she devotes every waking moment to listening, active listening, and note taking. Yes, recording is her profession, but the truth is that hearing this may make some listeners feel exposed. I really want that to go across, that it’s time we listen to one another.
As an industrial psychologist, I believe that attentive listening is a core competency. To me, that was a thing of great beauty. It wasn’t deliberate, yet it works out well that we share that interest.
While Cora remains a mystery at present, she will play a crucial part in the development of the MCU. How thrilled would you be to reprise this part in a big-screen adaptation, such to Paul Bettany’s Vision?
Sushant: Everything from my nearly four-hour-a-day riyaz and vocal exercises to my acting seminars has my full attention. This might be a beautiful and lethal combination. They’ll be getting two benefits for the price of one. I’ll perform all the songs and do the acting, too. Simply stating my intention and seeing it come to fruition.
How did you, Saif Ali Khan, and the other cast members help each other get into character, given the importance of dialogue delivery in the role of a Rigellian Recorder?
Sushant: The great thing about listening to an audio series is that you can get assistance at any moment, even if you can’t physically be there. The Audible crew did something quite remarkable in that they captured every subtlety of every character’s dialogue and expression throughout the show. After that, some rudimentary chords were played. In my opinion, they had better coordination than we had. For example, if it were up to the artists, I doubt the album would see the light of day. Therefore, I believe the Audible team deserves praise for the outstanding work they have done.
How does it feel to be one of the MCU’s first openly gay or lesbian characters? Do you agree that it’s time for more diversity, even in Indian cinema?
Sushant: Ah, yes! Now that’s more like it; we can actually have a conversation. That we have been seen and heard, however, makes the fact that I get to play this character all the more wonderful to me. It’s amazing to me that so many young people may find inspiration in the fact that I’m here, that I’m speaking up, that I’m challenging norms. I pray it gives them the confidence to go out and win at whatever they set their minds on. In my opinion, having leaders at the helm is crucial.
I should count my blessings that I am healthy, employed, and able to provide my all. It’s incredibly important to me, and I believe it should permeate the film franchise as a whole, from the cinematic universe to the audio platforms. I agree that it is crucial that the LGBTQ community is given the attention it deserves.
When it comes to the Indian film industry, where members of the LGBTQ community are often cast in comedic roles, how long do you believe this line will be?
Sushant: Okay, I’ll let you know when my Bollywood premiere will be. I’ll be letting you in on a secret that will completely alter the playing field, and I promise you won’t want to miss it.
It’s about time folks were unsure about what category to put us in. Since neither of us fits either gender, we must assume the worst. So, it’s lovely. I anticipate it. That is the topic of our next discussion.
Yes, I believe that is the case. Soon, things will begin to shift. Simply, we will yell out to you and inform you.
Based on the popular English series, the new Hindi adaptation has leading Hindi actors including Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sharad Kelkar, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Vrajesh Hirjee, Masaba Gupta, Mithila Palkar, Sushant Digvikr, Prajakta Koli, Yashaswini Dayama, and Anangsha Biswas, among others, voicing roles of iconic Marvel Super Heroes, artistically directed by Mantra Mugdh.
The audio series follows some of Marvel’s most recognisable heroes as they battle supervillains to restore law and order in a world where they were nearly eradicated more than three decades ago.
“In a dark future of the Marvel Universe, the villains have finally won, and the heroes are nothing but a bad memory,” reads the official synopsis. Both Peter Quill (Saif Ali Khan) and Rocket (Vrajesh Hirjee) have aged since the Guardians of the Galaxy’s heyday, making them a bit chubbier, slower, and saltier in the new series. When they crash-land on Earth 30 years after Doctor Doom took power, they find a bleak, lonely wasteland populated by lawless Ghost Riders and the bloodthirsty Kraven the Hunter, among other super-villains. Before the guillotine collars put upon them by The Collector, snap their necks, the former Guardians are joined by a Rigellian Recorder, lovingly dubbed “Cora,” who recounts their mission to uncover the Black Vortex, an ancient relic said to provide cosmic powers Marvel’s Wastelanders.