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Drop that accent! now you’re a real Indian: Hollywood is finally serious about Indian talent

Beyond a few big names, Indian actors and Indian references are organically growing in the West.

hollywood Updated: Jun 15, 2018 17:11 IST
Samarth Goyal
Samarth Goyal
Hindustan Times
Hollywood,Bollywood,Anupam Kher
The West has moved on from restricting Indian characters to the periphery of the plot, or playing the stereotypical role of immigrant with a funny Indian accent.

Gone are the days when Indian or Indian-origin actors were restricted to blink-and-miss roles in the West, often forced to speak in a way that was considered ‘authentic Indian’ by studio executives. Now, whichever way you turn your head, you’re likely to see Indian faces and/or Indian settings in films and TV shows made in the West, and a character’s details — accent, style etc — are tweaked to fit the actor cast in the role.

This scene is now much bigger than isolated top names such as an Irrfan or a Priyanka Chopra or a Deepika Padukone getting plum roles. While the 1985 Channel 4 show Tandoori Nights (fronted by Saeed Jaffrey, playing a restaurant owner in London) was like a brown island floating in a white sea, now we have Bollywood star Anupam Kher in a leading role in Mrs Wilson, a period drama on British TV; the US-based actor Karan Soni getting a four-film contract for a superhero franchise; the theme of Raj-era India recreated for the American show Westworld; and have Sherlock Holmes solve the murder of two Indian-origin Americans on the show Elementary. So either Indian actors are being cast or Indian references are cropping up.

The third episode of Westworld’s second season introduced British Raj, which is centered around the period when India was under British rule.

Kher feels that the West no longer sees India or other South-East Asian countries through the lens of stereotypes. “A lot has changed,” he says. “Naturally, there’s a lot more awareness now. So, you no longer see Indian characters who have that ‘typical’ Indian accent. Everyone knows no Indian talks like that. I mean no one puts up an ‘Indian act’ anymore. We have arrived.”

But the growing involvement of India is not merely restricted to the lead actors. Karan Soni, who played the role of Dopinder in the Deadpool movie franchise, is one many such examples. The actor, in a recent conversation with us had admitted that the West has become serious about the “acting” talent of such actors.

Karan Soni has played the role of Dopinder in the first two instalments of Deadpool film franchise, and has been signed on for two more movies in the franchise.

In a recent chat with us, Soni said that the West was now serious about the talent of Indian or Indian-origin actors. He said, “Not only is there more content, but the producers are also focusing on characters rather than their ethnicities. I mean, when you go in for an audition, you get a character sketch, like ‘a 35-year-old American male’. The ethnicity of that character is developed after casting the actor, and I think that’s the most basic change that has happened. I’m really glad that it happened.”

Tiya Sircar, who plays the role of Arunima Schuman on the American TV show, Alex, Inc., recalls being rejected by the Western entertainment industry for not being “Indian enough” to play an Indian.

Tiya Sircar has been receiving rave reviews for her portrayal of Arunima Shcuman in Alex Inc.

She says, “I didn’t know, initially, what that meant; I guess they wanted me to conform to those stereotypes. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Makers know that I’m more an Indian American, and I don’t really identify with a lot of cultural aspects from [India].” Her casting changed the ethnicity of the Arunima character, while other aspects were more or less retained. No more being poured into the ‘Indian mould’.

Interact with the author on Twitter/@sammysamarth

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 17:09 IST