Gaming is much more than controlling sprites on a screen by utilizing hand-eye coordination and puzzle-solving. Tabletop gaming, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering, has seen a boost in popularity over the past few years. These games allow players to harness the power of their imagination to control their character in what can arguably be described as the ultimate open-world game.
Over the past decade, programs like Geek & Sundry and Dimension 20 have fueled the game’s rising popularity. However, The success of Matt Mercer’s Critical Role plays a large part in this resurgence in tabletop role-playing. It began in 2012 as a bunch of friends (many voice actors) playing RPGs in each other’s living rooms and has evolved into a multi-platform entertainment sensation, attracting over half a million viewers every week.
One actress has bridged the gaming gap between video games and tabletop gaming. Anjali Bhimani, a cast mate of Mercer from the game Overwatch, has joined Critical Role in the past few years, adding her voice and imagination to the entertaining adventure and world-building. Anjali was gracious enough to join me in a conversation about her early theater career, her love of DnD, and her personal projects.
Entertainment Writer G.A. Lungaro: I am so glad to be able to talk to you personally for a bunch of different reasons. Your resume’s like a nerd’s fever dream from gaming, to Dnd, to the MCU.
Anjali Bhimani: I am going to write that down. That is one of the best descriptions. Your resume is a nerd’s fever dream. And I would agree because I am a giant freaking nerd and have been since I was a kid. So, exactly. It is, it is. I am literally living my own dream.
G.A. Lungaro: Beautiful! Let’s start with the simple things, how was your holiday season? Ready for the new year?
Anjali Bhimani: Oh, great! No, never ready for the New Year. Um, I always…my holiday season tends to be like, it’s always a whirlwind to the end. And this tiny period of time between Christmas and New Year’s is when I’m doing all of the, oh my gosh, I have to look back on the year and set all of these intentions and no, no, no, no, no. And then I have a minor meltdown, and I’m like, you know what? How about we roll into the New Year like it’s just another?
Our calendars, you know, if you’re really thinking about it in terms of our lives, our New Years are our birthday, so I like to treat my birthday as my New Year’s Day. But it’s been very mellow and very lovely getting to spend time with family, which is rare since my husband and I, one or the other of us, are usually out of town doing something, if it’s filming or he’s performing or whatever. So, it’s been very, very nice to just be here for a few days.
G.A. Lungaro: I’m glad you brought up your birthday because it’s something I have in my notes. Correct me if I’m wrong, Aug. 30th, 1974, right?
Anjali Bhimani: Correct.
G.A. Lungaro: Okay, well, mine just happens to be August 23rd of the same year.
Anjali Bhimani: Really? And you know what, you share a birthday with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. Her name is Mary Zimmerman. You can look her up. She is an incredible director. She won the Tony for the play that we did together, and she is a dear friend. I’ve done 18 productions with her,18 stage productions, and she won the MacArthur Genius Grant. I mean, she’s just, she’s the bomb. You are in good company with your birthday.
G.A. Lungaro: Thank you! You keep segueing me perfectly. Sorry. It’s great. I’m a Chicagoan and that’s where your alma mater Northwestern is located and your early working years, speaking of theater, at the Goodman, The Lookingglass Theater, iconic places. How did your time in Chicago mold your career?
Anjali Bhimani: Oh my God. I mean, in every single way. Chicago is such a perfect place, in my opinion, to sort of grow up as a performer or grow up as an artist of any kind because the community there is very much about collaboration. And I’m not just talking about the arts community; I’m talking about the community at large in Chicago. You know, when people are fighting the weather every single day of their life, they’re fighting a common foe. And so everybody tends to band together with this pride of being a Chicagoan and pride of being there and being able to handle snowdrifts that are taller than you are and all of that.
Coming into my own, I mean in some ways, coming into my own as an artist, first time leaving home for that long for college and everything, it was catered very much to the part of me that even though I’m an actor and obviously that puts me out front, I don’t like to be the only person responsible for everything. I like it to be a team effort. And my time at Northwestern taught me many things, not the least of which was that even as an actor, you are a tiny cog in a great big wheel. Just because you’re the one on stage doesn’t mean there aren’t 300 people behind you.
Making sure that that thing happens and when you carry that kind of team feeling, that kind of collaborative spirit into your work and into your life, everything is more fun. You realize, well, not that you didn’t know this, but like there is proof that you are not the most important thing in the world, which is great because you’re not always looking at, “What do people think of me, how am I gonna do this, how am I gonna succeed, how am I, I, I, I, I?” How are we gonna make this happen? What do we need to achieve this goal? Life becomes more collaborative.
Even for people who do very, I don’t wanna say lonesome, but very solo tasks. Like a solo performer or, like my book, writing it solo. Even those don’t happen without a huge group of people coming in one way or the other. Yeah. So, more than anything, in terms of my outlook on life and my outlook on performing and storytelling, that was a huge part of starting in Chicago.
That, and you know, I started in theater. That was my first love, and I went to Northwestern for theater, and the theater scene in Chicago is magnificent. It’s just absolutely magnificent. The work is great. The people are great.
G.A. Lungaro: So much stuff started here. I mean, you got Gary Sinese and Steppenwolf, and with comedy, you have Second City.
Anjali Bhimani: Exactly. All of it, all of those things. And so many things move from there. So many things move from the Goodman to Broadway or move from Steppenwolf to Broadway. Our show Metamorphosis moved from the Lookingglass eventually to Broadway.
And so, the thing I love about that is that Broadway isn’t the be-all-end-all for Chicago, but somehow they still seem to be cranking out stuff that lands there all the time because it ends up being so good. And I do think a lot of that has to do again with that aesthetic. We are coming together to tell a story, and the story is the most important thing.
G.A. Lungaro: I mean, there’s that whole phrase, you know, in New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. But we know how much of a dog-eat-dog world it is and how competitive it is. Not that it isn’t competitive in Chicago, but I seem to get the sense that the Chicago theater scene has a more welcoming, let’s bring new people in feel.
Anjali Bhimani: I don’t think, I mean, I know that that’s the quote from the song, but I don’t think it’s about it being dog eat dog. I think in New York; it’s just about the fact that there is, it’s a higher cost of living. It’s just a tougher city to live in. But it is a wildly rewarding city to live in because of that hustle.
Because you can’t, you will not be able to make it in New York if you’re not hustling. Yeah. You can’t just skate in New York. But the thing about Chicago going back. You know, what you had specifically said about, and I’m trying to remember exactly the words you used because it triggered something.
G.A. Lungaro: Bringing in new people. More inviting.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah. It just feels like it because, again, maybe things have changed since I lived there; I’m not sure. Again, you’re fighting the weather, but you’re not necessarily fighting ridiculously high real estate prices and all of that stuff.
So you have the freedom to be able to do theater that is not purely for commercial reasons. In New York, it’s much more commercial theater, which is why I think it’s tougher because there’s so much more on the line financially for people, and there becomes this, this huge, um, separation between the tiny theaters and the big theaters.
G.A. Lungaro: Speaking of that, you know, that sense of camaraderie and working all together, that brings me to your time working at Overwatch as Symmetra. I recently had the pleasure of talking with your friend and Overwatch castmate Jen Cohn. I want to ask you the same question I asked her regarding this amazing closeness you all share. What does working on Overwatch and that family that’s been created there mean to you?
Anjali Bhimani: Wow! I mean, it means the world. It was definitely one of the bright spots and like shiny moments that changed the course of how my career is going or where it’s going. I will say that the actual recording of the game is not done with the other actors. It wasn’t really that that brought us together. What brought us together was the experience of what the community and the world did with this game and how they loved this game, and how they embraced us.
And thank goodness for Blizzard bringing us all together for a cast party that first year, that so many of us who could make it to that could meet. And it was the first time, I think, that I know of that so many leading characters also got to get together and be seen in the world as the actors.
And so that experience, of it kind of blowing up and us all experiencing that together, some folks who were in the cast had already experienced that, in that they had incredible careers before Overwatch started. For some of the rest, this was the biggest voiceover thing that we had ever experienced, and indeed some people, the biggest thing they’d experienced, period. So having that kind of shared experience and enjoying sharing it with each other, I think that’s what created the family.
Also, the fact that the game itself is based on a world worth fighting for. We could always use more heroes. There’s a lot of hope. There may be bad things in this futuristic world, but there is always hope. There is always some way to overcome evil or some way to overcome the bad. All of those different things, both personally and then as a group, I think were so uplifting to me and so in alignment with how I see the world and live my life that you just couldn’t help but just be caught up in the fire of it, caught up in the magic of it.
Yeah, it’s great. You know, like I met my best friend, Carolina, and Jen, and Lucy. We all are so tight, and we all take care of each other, and we all get excited for each other. And you know, Jen’s in that Chippendales show that her husband created, and we’re all texting last night, and Johnny’s in it, and Lucy’s in it, you know! So there’s just this feeling of shared experience and shared connection with a brand new community, they came together over a game, and that right there, that I think is what created the family.
G.A. Lungaro: One of your castmates there, everybody’s favorite cowboy in gaming, Mr. Matt Mercer, he’s got a little, little thing going on.
Anjali Bhimani: Um, I think it’s called, Critical…Critical Mass? (laughs)
G.A. Lungaro: Yeah, Critical Role or some little thing. But yeah, this particularly hits home to me. I play DnD, and I stream a weekly game that I’ve DMed for the past two years. And Critical Role itself has done, joking aside, so much for both the genre and the game in bringing in new people that knew nothing about DnD aside from us old heads from when we were younger.
You’ve been a part of it now with special guest appearances and some one-shots, and now part of Exandria Unlimited. What I didn’t know prior to looking at your biography Ms. Bhimani is that you are actually a longtime player of DnD?!
Anjali Bhimani: I am! I started playing when I was eight, and then there was what I like to call the dark days of gaming, like probably starting somewhere during that Broadway run of Metamorphosis, so I guess that was from 2002 to about 2018; I didn’t game. Actually, it was around 2017 when I met Matt (Mercer) and Marisha (Ray), and you know, the very first day that we met on the Blizzard campus, and we all talked about how much we loved DnD and all of this stuff, and I had someone say, oh, you gotta watch their show. And so there was all of this stuff trickling in that came back.
So when Marisha hit me up in 2018, they were still working with Geek & Sundry, and she said, “Hey, there’s this show that my friend Ivan Van Norman is doing on Geek and Sund. I think you’d be great for it. Would you be interested in doing a role-playing game?” And I’m like, dude, yes! Sign me up! For me to get a chance to see this as part of my work world? Are you kidding?
G.A. Lungaro: Get to play a very fun game for work? Yes!
Anjali Bhimani: But not just a very fun game, and this is what is so special. This is what Dimension 20 and Critical Role and so many others, Geek & Sundry, when it was flourishing, what they’ve done for the genre is they have shown people, how do I put this? How do I put this best? Just like the theater and just like what I was talking about, about being a cog in the wheel when you’re playing a role-playing game with people who are committed to the story, not committed to what they cool things they wanna do, or stuff like that but committed to the telling of a great story. It elevates things in such a way that the experience of playing is even greater than it is when you’re just kind of joking around, right?
And the joking around, look, there’s room for that in home games, obviously. I say this quite often; in fact, Marisha wrote it in my book, with how much I say it. I take my fun very seriously because I don’t have a lot of free time to do fun things. So when I do, I want it to be like, it’s gotta be big. It’s gotta be really, really fun. So, getting to do these role-playing games with people who are that committed to the story with people who are such experienced storytellers and being swept up in that, it’s a return to long-form improv.
It’s what they taught at Improv Olympic and what they teach at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and all of that stuff. It’s that sense of here’s the big picture of the story. You are a part of it. How are you gonna tell the story? How are you gonna make this character’s decisions fit in this world?
And that, for me, that is everything. Getting to experience building a world moment to moment, where you get to decide what the lines are because you’re creating the character with them. And it’s not all about having to be funny. Like a lot of improv often is a lot of times. You’ll see improv where people just, they’re just going for the joke, going for the joke, going for the joke.
G.A. Lungaro: You gotta entertain.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah. But then you have incredibly experienced improvisers like Brennan Lee Mulligan who gets up there, and yeah, it’s funny. It’s absolutely funny, but it’s also so story-based, and then you play DnD with those guys? (mimes head exploding) Then it’s an embarrassment of riches, and that’s why it is so fun to come back to this with the experience I’ve had as an actor.
Because when I did improv in Chicago, I didn’t love doing it for that very reason that it felt like I needed to, had to perform, make the thing happen, blah, blah, blah! I personally put a lot of pressure on myself, whereas playing DnD it’s just committ to the story, and you’re fine. That’s it. The story.
G.A. Lungaro: Exactly, most of my players over the two campaigns that I’ve been doing over the last two years, most of them are new players to the game that haven’t really, you know, played it as much. Me being the DM and having written a fantasy novel and having all these ideas, it’s like I got this grand story that I wanna tell, you guys are the players in it, and I want you to flesh it out. I’m just giving you the background.
And a lot of them have watched Critical Role and seen it, and while it’s great, it’s amazing what you guys do on Critical Role and what goes on there. But I do have to temper them and say, “just realize that these are highly skilled and trained professionals who have been doing this similar kind of work and applying it now to DnD, don’t try to live up to this standard; just be yourself.
Anjali Bhimani: No, no. And honestly, just be yourself and experience it because, look, nobody is gonna play DnD the same because everybody is uniquely different, right? Even quote-unquote, “highly experienced actors,” but ultimately, any single person in the world can be quote-unquote “great at this” because all you have to do is cultivate your imagination. That’s all it is, and a great DM is a person who’s not describing it for you; it’s like, okay, cool, how do you wanna do this? That’s why that’s so beautiful. He gives the player the opportunity to tell their own story.
You know Ivan was the same thing. We were doing We’re Alive: Frontier, and I remember at one point telling him at the end of the first episode, telling him, oh, I gotta, I gotta stop; I’m not sure what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not allowed to do in this game system. He said, think of the story first. If you tell a good story, I will determine whether or not you can do it, but it’s about the story. Anybody can do that. A 10-year-old can do that, and they’re great at it!
It’s the pressure we put ourselves as adults to be quote-unquote “good at something.” There are no wrong answers. There are only more right answers, and you just keep getting it more and more right. Even when you, as players, take the story in a completely different direction than the poor DM wanted it to go, that’s still not a wrong answer.
G.A. Lungaro: Right? It’s a nightmare wrapped up in a dream.
Anjali Bhimani: It’s an absolute nightmare for DM. I don’t know how you guys do it.
G.A. Lungaro: But it’s awesome because it develops storylines that you never thought about.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah! And that’s what makes it so much fun. Also, I also imagine it really cultivates your ability to let go of things, which is not one of my strong suits in the world. Marisha has been telling me for years that I need to DM, and I think this year I might cave.
G.A. Lungaro: I’m glad you brought that up. We know obviously how DnD is so much fun, and the experiences are diverse from DM to DM, and they can all be good. But each experience is different, and they all have their own way of doing things. Were there any differences of note between playing with Matt as a DM and Aabria Iyengar as a DM?
Anjali Bhimani: Absolutely. Absolutely. It really is just a matter of the difference in storytelling, and it’s not; when I say absolutely, and I’m trying to put my finger on what it is, it’s just a different storyteller. Their enthusiasm comes from a different place. It’s like a different person telling the same joke. I can’t really put my finger on what is different from them because I haven’t had a chance to do a long campaign with Matt before doing Exandria Unlimited, which was a little longer with Aabria.
The only thing I had done with Matt, I think, at that point was the Doom One-Shot, and then he was a player in UnDeadwood. My only DM experiences before Aabria were with Ivan on We’re Alive: Frontier and Brian Foster on UnDeadwood. So I can’t really specifically put my finger on what it is.
I do love that Aabria had to play in a world that Matt created and just own it, just own it. And I will say there were a couple of times; I seem to recall a couple of times when she was like, “Uh uh, don’t look at him. I’m the DM now. Uh uh, don’t ask him that; this is my world now!”
G.A. Lungaro: That happens in my games a few times because my one friend who’s a player in my campaign is also a DM, and I play in one of his campaigns. And it’s hard for both of us sometimes when we’re the player, and someone asks a question, we like, get DM mode.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah! You really want to jump in and help. But yeah, all of them, all of the DMs and GMs that I’ve played with, has been so extraordinary in their own right, like Ivan Van Norman has the ability to do a combination of terrorizing you and making you love it all at the same time. I don’t know how he does it. I call him my Terrormonger because you’ve no idea what’s gonna come out of him, and he is gonna try to kill you no matter what, but you love him for it.
Aabria is just showering you with light and excitement. She’s always like, “Let’s go! Okay, let’s go! Let’s do it! Let’s go!” She’s got that very forward-facing energy. Matt is always setting the scene in such a really beautiful way, and his character work for the NPCs are so intricate, and obviously, his voices and the way he characterizes them. Oh God, and then Brian Foster with UnDeadwood, like that blew my mind because I felt like I was in Deadwood all of a sudden, and we were watching all of these real-life characters coming to life.
Watching other virtuosos do it, like Brennan Lee Mulligan, watching Brennan DM, I don’t understand how his brain can do the things he did. The Exandria Unlimited: The calamity that they did this year, I have said this to them, and I said to everyone else, I’m like, this is one of the top five things I have seen all year in any media, in any medium. In terms of storytelling and everybody working together and the improvising and the creativity, and still bringing all the plot points together and all, it’s just I bow down to their superior ability to create the work. I aspire just like everybody else who’s watching them. I’m just like, ugh, “I aspire to learn! Teach me, Sensei!”
G.A. Lungaro: Your voice started going into your little Fire Genasi there, Fy’ra Rai, right? I have a hard time pronouncing her name!
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah! Think of it like, fiera, like a…
G.A. Lungaro: Like the car, Fiero. Fy’ra Rai.
Anjali Bhimani: Exactly. (In character) “Fy’ra Rai, she is with you! Yes, of course. Yes. With her unplaceable accent that no one knows what it is.”
G.A. Lungaro: Sounds a lot like Ana!
Anjali Bhimani: (In character) “No, it doesn’t sound like Ana because it’s not Ana, uh, I don’t know what this accent is. It is a Fire Genasi that is a far traveler and has traveled the world.”
G.A. Lungaro: What drew you to create this character for Exandria? Well, I mean, I know you actually used it first in…
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah. Oh God, you did do your research. I love this. So I didn’t use this character first. I had created a character named Fy’ra Kai for a one-shot charity event I did with, oh God, Andrew Strother, that’s his name. He brought us together to do this charity event, which was lovely, and I loved the build of the character so much that I didn’t wanna give her up.
And so what I decided was I was going to create that same build but a very different persona for this character and make her the identical twin. Or not identical, not identical twin, but make her a twin, not identical. That’s a very specific thing.
They’re not identical, but make her the twin to Fy’ra Kai, and what was great about that was that then Fy’ra Kai became a part of the story in Exandria Unlimited. I don’t wanna spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen Exandria Unlimited: Kymel, but she begins to play a major part in it.
I’m so glad Abria did it the way she did because it was very much the story that I had wanted for her in the first place. We talked a little bit about that, about who she was in, in my mind.
First of all, I wanted to play a badass. I wanted to play someone who was very much in her power that wasn’t like trying to figure out who she was in terms of “I will stand in my power.” But she had a lot of emotional things, a lot of things that had happened to her that had messed with her emotions.
Every character that you play in these games, everybody’s got some kind of a past that has formed who they are. And so I wanted her to be someone with an overdeveloped sense of duty based on the pain that she had felt in the past from things that she had failed at or she felt she thought she had failed at.
I really do think that role-playing games give us this beautiful luxury of exploring the human condition in ways we don’t get to do in real life because we have a long time with these characters, and we can decide what their challenges are and what their existing challenges are. Not just the dragons outside but their personal challenges.
We can, we can define that for ourselves and what we want to do. So, in this case, I wanted to explore the sort of tender underbelly of someone who looks like she’s got it all together and looks like she’s so powerful, and she makes it seem like she’s so powerful, and she thinks she’s so powerful.
But then what happens? Where does all of that come from, and what happens when things start to crumble? Plus, I wanted to create a character that I could cosplay. Here’s the problem. What I failed to realize. was like, oh yeah, she’ll totally wear the boots that I have, and I’ve got this outfit and blah, blah, blah. What I failed to remember is that I can’t set my hair on fire. That’s not a wonderful situation.
G.A. Lungaro: I’m sure there could be some creative wig work.
Anjali Bhimani: I mean, there could be some creative wig work, Yes. But I’m like, mm, you really can’t quite get that one right, can you? That’s some Hunger Games shit. So, yeah, unfortunately, that part won’t be happening.
G.A. Lungaro: Well, we’ve had a lot of DnD talk. I gotta force myself to get out of it because it’s a personal love, but you’re more than just DnD. You have thrown yourself into the MCU in Ms. Marvel. You play Auntie Rubie. The show focuses so much on Kamala’s Pakistani culture and ethnicity, which was a great thing to see. You being of Indian descent, how did it feel being a part of a comic genre finally showcasing people of South Asian culture?
Anjali Bhimani: It was beyond amazing. It wasn’t so much showcasing as normalizing everything. A lot of people don’t know the history between India and Pakistan and don’t realize that they weren’t the same country until very recently in history. So many of our traditions are the same, and Indians and Pakistanis are friends all over the place. It’s not some feud we have from birth. So being a part of this show where it was just, this just happens to be another thing about this family, it’s not the one thing that defines them, but it is part of the canvas that the whole story is painted on.
That right there is something that I hadn’t yet seen anywhere, and certainly not in terms of a superhero show or a movie. So many times, and, and this is what I love about Overwatch and Apex Legends as well, so many times, historically, a cultural background was the defining characteristic of a character, and that is no longer the case in the world. People have realized that you cannot tell stories like that because they won’t touch people. People won’t connect with those characters. They connect with unique, interesting, multi-faceted characters. And that is one facet of who they are.
G.A. Lungaro: Right, Because that old way was almost tokenizing rather than telling a story.
Anjali Bhimani: Exactly, and as a species, the human race has evolved a little bit more and more in that way. And obviously some places, yeah, are still a little bit socially maybe behind in terms of accepting other people, but just to be a part of something where it was just completely normal, where I would walk on set, and we’re shooting a wedding, and it feels like one of the weddings I went to when I was growing up. It feels like home.
It feels like my Auntie’s house. It feels like I know all of these people. And on top of that, to also have so many people of actual Pakistani descent, so many people who are Muslim there to make sure that everything was accurate. Obviously, there’s leeway because different families celebrate different things differently, just like different Christian families celebrate Christmas differently.
But overall, to have the big picture so accurate, and then on top of that, to have the first generation born here experience told the way it was because that’s what I am. I’m first generation in my family. I’m first generation born here, just like Kamala.
G.A. Lungaro: Same here, my parents both came from Italy, and I’m first generation born here.
Anjali Bhimani: You get it. So you have your leg in both cultures, and you want to connect with both. But usually, as a teenager, you wanna fit in more than necessarily hang on to that other culture.
So you’re leaning towards blending in with the American kids, but also, you can’t deny this other part of you. And I’m so glad as part of Ms. Marvel, a huge part of the story that wasn’t a part of the story in the comic books; I’m so glad that they brought in Partition as such a huge part.
G.A. Lungaro: Yeah! You would think because there are so many historical things that people all know immediately at the top of their heads, the Partition, a lot of people don’t really don’t know about it, just how big it was and how splitting it was for a community and a culture. Because we think about religions, right? Oh, people are opposed because of religion, but you guys shared the same culture.
Anjali Bhimani: They don’t know about it! Exactly. I’m so glad you said that because that is very, very true. I didn’t realize how few people knew about Partition. I mean, I knew about it growing up because, as a South Asian family, of course, you know about it. But I did not realize how few people knew about it.
And then, on top of that, how few people knew how hard it was a time even before partition for Indians under British rule. And so opening that door to people, learning about it, that to me is one of the magical things that art can do. It can make you interested in something you didn’t know about. And then you go down the rabbit hole on your own. You leave the theater, or you leave the TV show, and you’re like, I want to know more.
G.A. Lungaro: I Google immediately when there is stuff like, I know this, but what’s this? I always want the full context of everything.
Anjali Bhimani: Yes, right! And look, even me, I may have grown up in an Indian family, but there’s so much I don’t know. So, so, so, so, so much. I don’t know. And I’m always wanting to learn about it, so I love the fact that they made it such an important part of the story.
And I love that it’s been recognized that way. I think it was Entertainment Weekly in the New York Times, both? Oh, no, Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times both listed the fifth episode of Ms. Marvel, which is that final Partition episode, as one of the top episodes of TV this year. And I love that.
G.A. Lungaro: Yeah. That made the show become more interesting for me.
Anjali Bhimani: It just completely changes the game. It’s not a superhero story anymore. It’s epic. It becomes epic. So yeah, to answer your question, I freaking loved it, loved working every day I went to work, didn’t matter what time of day, I was happy.
I remember shooting some of the scenes outside the mosque, and it was like two o’clock in the morning or one o’clock in the morning we were freezing. We got hand warmers in our pockets, and then we had to take them off because it was supposed to be summer. And I was just like; I could not be happier. Freezing my hole off at one o’clock in the morning in a street, I could not be happier.
G.A. Lungaro: I liked how, and this is what makes it real too, a more realistic feel, aside from this “us vs. them” like, oh, here’s a culture we don’t know anything about, let’s show them, there was that strife, obviously, in Partition, but even within the family, there was that strife where her grandmother was considered nutso and who was viewed by the family as, oh, we don’t talk about her, we don’t talk about her.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah! And then you meet her, and she’s like the coolest character on the show. Right? You’re like, I love this woman. She also has the most perfect description, I think, of what happened during Partition when she talks about I’m split between two worlds. I was born in India; I live here. And in between is this line that was drawn. Someone was fleeing India, and how am I supposed to find out who I am?
Obviously, she said it much more eloquently than I did, but the fact that we see that duality, over and over and over and over again in the show, whether it is the duality between the parents wanting their child to be safe but want their child to be able to fly and do all of the big things they want to do, whether it is the kids trying to break away from their parents, but also loving their parents so much.
Whether it is the two superpowered characters trying to figure out how to contend with their power. There’s so much duality, and that’s why also in the last episode when she says there is no normal, there’s only what is and what you do with it, that’s it.
G.A. Lungaro: And there’s the whole backdrop of the fantasy element of it was a duality between the Earth realm and Noor.
Anjali Bhimani: Yes, and now I’m just excited to see where they take her story because, you know, obviously, she’s in the Marvels, right? She is now firmly ensconced in the MCU Avengers world. I’m really eager to see how that character takes flight.
G.A. Lungaro: So we’re almost done, but I want to take a look at some of your personal projects. Because, yet again, you clicked every box with me. You’d had a Kickstarter. I made my own comic; I’m the writer.
I’ve had three Kickstarter campaigns, two for the comic book and one for a fantasy novel. I’m a Kickstarter guy. I love what Kickstarter can do for independent creators. You have your own little book on Kickstarter. I Am Fun Size, yes? I Am Fun Size, and So Are You, correct?
Anjali Bhimani: Yes, it’s called I Am Fun Size, and So Are You!: Thoughts from a Tiny Human on Living a Giant Life. I’m Fun Size actually started out as a web series as a response to, going back in our conversation, discovering this amazing online gaming and artistic community that I first got to start meeting because of Overwatch. But then it expanded so much, and I felt very connected to them right off the bat, and people were so giving and so generous of their time, of their energy, of their art that I wanted so badly to give something back to the community. The one thing that I have that no one else has is my set of experiences and how I’ve dealt with them.
The one thing I have that no one else has is my story. So I am not a doctor; I just play them on TV. So I am not a mental health professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that through the telling of stories and through the sharing of experiences, that’s how we learn from each other. So I created this web series.
I Am Fun Size with a front-facing email address, [email protected], and I said, send me your questions. If it’s something that you can find out about Symmetra online, do not ask me that. This is for you to ask me, but ask me anything. If you are feeling low, ask whatever it is about life. and I thought, okay, let’s see if this takes off.
But the number of letters that I got and the number of emails and really great life questions made me look at my own life and say, how do I handle this? Or how did I handle this in the past? So it became a real labor of love, and then I would bring in other friends from projects that I was working on, whether it was Overwatch or film friends, or TV friends, I would bring them in when I was shooting something.
Come last year; the timeline is a little confusing in my head because, you know, we had a global pandemic, but come last year, people had been telling me, oh, you should write a book, this should be a book. And I just didn’t wanna do it.
I was just, no, I’m not interested right now. And then, middle of the next year, all of a sudden, I was like, no, I’m interested, and I wanna do this. I popped out that first draft in three weeks, just writing nonstop. Then when I was trying to decide how I wanted to put the book out in the world. I was seeing both the cost of doing it the way I wanted to do it and wanting to know if people actually wanted this book or not. Kickstarter felt like the absolute right place to do it because that was my opportunity to connect with the very community that I wanted to connect with the book and also to give something to them for supporting the book. Since I’m Fun Size itself was built as a gift, I wanted to be able to give something back with that. So, yeah, I ran a Kickstarter, and that’s how I paid for the first set of expenses.
G.A. Lungaro: 600 people, $45,000.
Anjali Bhimani: Yeah, it was very surprising. I am always blown away by this community, so it was surprising for me, but also, I should have known that people would show up because people show up, and I love that. The challenge for me was the combination of me wanting to do it my way, being a little bit of a control freak, and me wanting to have my set of standards but also not loving the way the traditional publishing world works. I just started my own publishing company and decided, okay, well cool, I’m gonna do this here, but also, I’m not just gonna do this for my book. I’m gonna do this so that my friends who wanna publish a book do not have to contend with learning the things the hard way that I had to learn.
Thankfully the book has been very successful, it hit a bunch of bestseller lists, and people seem to really love it. Because I’ve been shooting other things and recording other things and kind of moving on, I haven’t done a lot of marketing with it. Getting that feedback on a regular basis means the world to me. Now I’m opening up my world to be able to hopefully go to schools and talk about it or give keynote speeches because I’d really love to go to colleges and talk to people about these experiences. If I can help anyone see their life in just a one-degree difference, and that helps them, it’s worth it to me.
I do have another book that I am publishing, not my own, coming through the publishing company. That is coming soon. I’m gonna have to leave it as a “stay tuned” because we haven’t announced it yet. But I’m very, very excited. This one is gonna be fiction, and it’s not just a book that we are putting together; it’s actually an entire story series in a bunch of different media. I’m very, very, very, very excited. It’s, it’s one of the, one of, what can I do for projects now?
G.A. Lungaro: Feels multiversal to me.
Anjali Bhimani: Exactly, it is; it’s very multiverse, but also just expands different mediums. So, you know, some will be books and then others are shows. There’s just a lot of stuff involved. So stay tuned. That Kickstarter is coming too.
G.A. Lungaro: I like to close out talking about any upcoming stuff. So, do you have anything, any new stuff, other than this book?
Anjali Bhimani: I have the book. I am going to be putting out sort of a class and a podcast next year that is specifically for artists learning how to sustain their careers and their lives in a way that is both exciting and creatively stimulating but also helps you deal with a lot of the instability and basically helps us to exorcize the myths of the starving artist and find a way to turn that to our advantage. What else am I allowed to talk about right now? I know that our Dragonlance one-shot from Pax Unlimited.
G.A. Lungaro: Oh! You’re doing Dragonlance?
Anjali Bhimani: We did a one-shot at Pax Unlimited to show people the new expansion. The Shadow of the Dragon Queen and the new board game and how the two mix with DnD and the board game. So that’s online right now. If anyone has any questions or wants to see what I’m up to, the best way is to join my email list, which you can do just by going to my website. It’s very easy. There’s like an opt-in. My website is my name dot com, and following me on the socials is a great way to keep up with all the things that I’m doing.