Hollywood shifts attitude towards Indian actors

MUMBAI: The Namesake star Kal Penn believes that Indians and other minorities have not yet broken out of their stereotypes in mainstream Hollywood, but he sounds optimistic that things will slowly change.

www.Hollywood.tv founder Sheeraz Hasan quotes Penn as saying, “It is a two-fold problem. Hollywood is not as diverse as it should be, but on the flip side, the Indian community doesn’t encourage many of its members to go into fields like the arts so you can’t place all the blame on Hollywood needing the change.”

Penn, who grew up in New Jersey, is the son of immigrant parents who came from western India. His father is an engineer, a profession that is common among Indians living in the United States, where they are often seen as either convenience store owners or doctors on screen. As characters, they have heavy accents and are only cast when the script specifically calls for an Indian type.

Tejaswini Ganti, an assistant professor of anthropology at the New York University, notes that “it took them forever to have an Indian doctor on ER when a large proportion of doctors in the United States are of Indian origin.”

While Hasan says that this is not necessarily true, as Kavi Raz was the first Indian actor to be a continuing character playing a doctor in the medical drama series Saint Elsewhere during the 1980s, Penn is one of a handful of actors of Indian origin who have been cast in mainstream American television and movies.

Others include Parminder Nagra of TV series ER, Sendhil Ramamurthy of Heroes, Maulik Pancholi of 30 Rock, and Ravi Kapoor who played in 85 episodes as Dr Mahesh “Bug” Vijayaraghavensatanaryanamurthy in Crossing Jordan.

Hasan also quotes Ganti as saying that there are very few shows and movies in Hollywood where minority characters are cast despite their ethnicity. “I do remember watching one episode of Law and Order that was based on an Indian family that were cast regardless of their ethnic identification and Kal Penn was actually in the episode,” she said.