Well, it’s been 10 years since filmmaker Gurinder Chadha had a major hit and second-generation Indians were well-represented in Western media.
I mean, a trend definitely started after Bend It Like Beckham’s 2003 release in the U.S. Chadha wrote and directed Bride and Prejudice, based on Jane Austen’s novel and starring the beautiful Aishwarya Rai. Canadian comedian Russell Peters’ routine, Outsourced (2006), widely circulated within the South Asian American community. White people started wearing bindis again.
Still, South Asians are often cast as “token” characters on sitcoms. Remember NBC’s Outsourced? What a hot mess. Having an American show set in India only to have the main character to be a typical ignorant white guy, and the office workers as Indian caricatures of The Office, was not a bright idea.
But it is nice that brown people are finally getting more essential roles in television and film. Except when you’re discussing Shades of Ray, a film starring American actor Zachary Levi who plays a half-Pakistani guy wrestling with his cultural identity. (watch the trailer here)
Like, casting directors were too lazy to cast an actual half-Pakistani actor, or even a half-South Asian actor, to play the role of Ray Rehman. It’s not like there are over a billion of us around the world.
And then we have the Accent. From The Big Bang Theory’s Raj to Phineas and Ferb’s Baljeet, the popular assumption of Indians in Hollywood is that they’ve all got a hidden, stereotypical Indian accent.
It’s funny that Mindy Kaling’s show, The Mindy Project, on FOX is both celebrated and hated on by the South Asian American community in America. Her role on The Office as the talkative, pop culture obsessed Manager of the Customer Service Department (Jim: Your department’s just you right? Kelly: Yes Jim, but I am not easy to manage.) was a breath of fresh air in the midst of token South Asian characters in television. The issue with The Mindy Project is that Kaling continues to be the only character of color on the sitcom, despite the show being set in NYC and Kaling operating as creator, producer, head writer, and lead actor.
Obviously diversity in Hollywood and Western media won’t change overnight. But, really, 10 years?