Deadpool actor Karan Soni: A white guy voicing an Indian character in 2018 is not okay
When the superhero Deadpool takes a long ride in Dopinder’s taxi, that sets off a chain reaction in the New York cabbie’s life. Something like that has happened to Karan Soni, the actor who plays the role — it has changed his life “for good”. Before appearing in Deadpool (2016), the 29-year-old actor had done six films, following his debut in 2010 with Kaka Nirvana. Since Deadpool, he has been part of more than 10 projects, excluding the second instalment in the superhero film franchise. The Delhi-born actor speaks to us over the phone from Los Angeles, US, and talks about the impact of the film franchise on his career and the evolution of Indian-origin actors in the West. Excerpts:
How excited are you to be a part of the Deadpool franchise, which has earned such rave reviews, and where your character was also loved by everyone?
I had signed a four-film contract at the time of the first Deadpool film. So I always knew that I’d be working in the subsequent instalments of Deadpool. But, interestingly, I got the script for my character in Deadpool 2 just a day before the shooting for the film began. But then I was blown away, because there’s so much more to my character now. I had a very small role in the first film. But now, it’s a pretty big role and there’s a lot of development of the character that I play.
How did Deadpool impact your career as an actor?
A lot. Working in Deadpool was a really big change for me as an actor. I’ve been living in a New York apartment [block] for seven years. Before Deadpool came, they didn’t even know that I was an actor. The first weekend after the film’s release, they knocked on my door and told me ‘Oh, you’re an actor in Hollywood. We loved you in Deadpool!’ So it has changed my life for good in a lot of ways. Before Deadpool, if I was walking on the street, some people would recognise for some project, and another person for a different project. But now, every time I’m walking down the street, people recognise me as the actor from Deadpool. That’s crazy. Being an Indian, I’m extremely happy and proud of the fact that the film was loved in India as well!
But, does the fact that you get recognised as ‘the Deadpool actor’ bother you... that you might end up getting similar roles, or only be known for playing Dopinder the cabbie in Deadpool?
Honestly, after working for more than 10-11 years in the industry, I’ve learnt that you have to only take the positives. So I’m happy that people recognise me as [Dopinder]. But, yes, after the first film, before I signed on other projects, I was a bit nervous if I’d get similar roles. But, thankfully, that didn’t happen, and since the first Deadpool movie, I’ve done a variety of roles, all very different from each other. So from that perspective as well, you can say that I got lucky and I wasn’t sort of pigeonholed into doing the same thing.
There has been a lot of controversy of late, regarding the character of Appu on the TV show The Simpsons. Do you agree with those who feel that the character is a bit insensitive now, especially towards Indians?
You know what? I’m really happy that this controversy has come up around this time. Because if you’ll see me as Dopinder in Deadpool, and then compare him with Appu, you’ll realise how different both characters are, in terms of how they represent the culture. [Appu] is a character that’s voiced by a white guy. That’s not really okay, if you know what I mean.
I understand that when the show started, they probably didn’t have many Indian-origin actors around who could have voiced that character. But now, there are many who can do the voice-over and make it better. Simply ask this question to the makers of that show: ‘if you were casting for the show all over again in 2018, will you look for a white actor to voice that character or an Indian actor?’
So how do you really see the evolution of Indian-origin actors in the West?
It’s great, and not just for Indian-origin actors. You see actors from so many ethnicities, making their way into Hollywood and becoming part of really important projects. That’s why I say that this is the right time for the Appu controversy to come up. Because people can see such amazing talent from different parts of the world making a good name for themselves. And it’s not necessary that they only represent the ethnicities; they have done some remarkable work otherwise, as well. That’s why I think it’s important, because people should realise that it’s not okay that a white actor is voicing an Indian character in the 21st century.
Interact with the author on Twitter/@sammysamarth
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