Sunday debate: Does Mindy Kaling do brown for a white audience?

“There’s a reason why her stories showed Indian characters in a certain way”

By Ali Fazal

We have recently started to discover acceptance and diversity and brown stereotypes are changing. Indian cinema is being watched across the globe. Years ago, Shashi Kapoor, Saeed Jaffrey and Om Puri led us into world cinema. Then came the legend Irrfan Khan. Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Hasan Minhaj, Priyanka Chopra are some of the names that resonate when we speak of equal opportunities for South Asian actors. When I did Fast and Furious 7, even though I played an Arab prince, James Wan wanted me to break the stereotype. 

Colour blind auditions are opening prospects. The onus is on the writers to write parts that can be played by all races. Of course, certain movies require specific races according to the geography of the script and that’s fine. Tom Cruise could never play a nawab in Shatranj Ke Khiladi!

Now a brown person is not just a brown person. It’s a look, and if that look fits the narrative, good. On the other hand, there is a reason why shows like Mindy’s had the Indian characters in a certain way. The first generation of NRIs maintained Indian cultures within the walls of the family home. There is nothing bad in that at all, though sometimes the representations were through caricatures like Apu from The Simpsons. Now I think blatant stereotyping has stopped.

In the end, stories work because of their emotional value, not the colour of someone’s skin. Representation is necessary, but there’s a change of mindset and we are taking baby steps in the right direction.

Ali Fazal is a Delhi-born actor, known for his roles in Victoria & Abdul (2017), Milan Talkies (2019) and Mirzapur (2018)

“ I was appalled to see what Mindy created in Never Have I Ever”

By Prashantt Guptha

The success story that she is, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Mindy Kaling. People often exclude her name when listing accomplished Indians in Hollywood. Probably because she’s managed to immerse herself so seamlessly into mainstream American entertainment, one tends to overlook her ethnic origin.

That, I have to admit, is something even I aspire for. And because of this remarkable position that Mindy has achieved, it appalled me to see that she of all people created Never Have I Ever.

As an actor/producer I understand there is a lucrative Netflix deal at hand. But I’d hope by now an Indian of her prowess will be a champion voice of reason and change for brown folks in American entertainment.

Born and raised in the US, never have I ever met such stereotypical and semi-caricaturish characters as the show portrays. Perhaps it caters to a teeny-bopper demographic, but nevertheless, it is dramatically OTT (over the top). I can confidently say our colour, culture and characters are ready to blend better than ever before, without having to hammer the bindis, murtis, accent and in your face desi-ism.

I am awe-inspired by the position Mindy and Priyanka have secured in Hollywood. I not only pursue it, I relentlessly reach out to people in their close coterie. The circles out there are as tight as they are in Bollywood.

Pushed to the wall, I created an opportunity for myself and seeped it in what I want our representation out there to look like.

Prashantt Guptha is an actor who was born in New York. He moved to Mumbai to act in Hindi films and was seen in Neerja (2016) and Isaaq (2013)

From HT Brunch, October 11, 2020

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