Much of India collectively came together over the last week to outrage against a storyline in Priyanka Chopra’s American TV show, Quantico, because it depicted an Indian as a terrorist in it (WHAT? HOW DARE THEY! LET’S TERRORIZE THEM INTO APOLOGIZING TO US FOR IT!). Both the network the show airs on, ABC (one of America’s biggest TV networks and a Disney company) as well as Priyanka Chopra herself apologized for hurting Indian sentiments (YES, WE FEEL BETTER NOW THAT YOU HAVE SAID SORRY, BECAUSE WE WON).
Outside of all the reasons I disagree with the outrage morally, politically, socially, humanly and Indian-ly, what was most ridiculous for me is that this is the depiction of Indians that we have chosen to get angry at, when, from Peter Sellers in brownface to Apu in The Simpsons being voiced by Hank Azaria (There’s a fantastic documentary called ‘The Problem with Apu’ by Hari Kondabolu that outrages about this), America has done so much worse in all the years leading up to now. It’s also funny that it is at this time in history that we have had a problem with American depiction of Indians; a time when some of the biggest TV stars, from Aziz Ansari to Mindy Kaling, are of Indian origin!
Seriously, for the longest time, over several decades, Indians have been depicted as caricatures of the worst kind – they have played either cabbies or doctors or owners of convenience stores – and these depictions were more harmful because they were played by American actors in brown face, from Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit to most recently, and notably, Ashton Kutcher in an infamous TV commercial. In fact, until just a few years ago, even big, commercial movies did not shy away from casting white actors in Indian roles: British actor Max Minghella played Divya Narendra in David Fincher’s The Social Network, at a time when everyone from Kal Penn to Kunal Nayyar had broken out in a big way on TV.
But we are living in a different world now; and that world is AMAZING for Indian representation on Hollywood screens, in terms of the incredible number of talent playing a multitude of characters in lead or parallel lead roles across TV and film. Actors like Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan even have starring roles in international blockbusters. In this world, an Indian playing a terrorist is merely a tiny blip on the wide radar of amazing roles Indians are getting to play on screen. It’s not an insult, a projection of American ignorance, a vendetta against India, a propaganda for Pakistan, or the thing that defines who we are. It’s really just a lousy plot in an average show.
To be honest, we’ve actually done worse in the depiction of foreigners in our films. From casting them as villains and henchmen to putting them as background dancers in songs featuring brown women, we’ve done them no favours ourselves. For that matter, Bollywood’s depiction of most communities beyond Hindus has always been problematic too: be it funny Sardars or effeminate homosexuals, or over the top ‘Madrasis’, we have managed to let down every minority under the hot Indian sun.
So when we see something like an Indian terrorist on an American show, before we outrage, we should first think about how we represent people unlike us on our screens, then we should realize that it’s just a fictional plot line in TV show that holds the distinction of being the first American series to cast an Indian actress in the lead! And then – and no, this is not a stretch – we should marvel at how this actually a testament to the fact that there are SO many Indian characters on American TV now that they have cast an Indian as a terrorist too (YES, I LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE).
Uske baad bhi, if we still feel outraged, here are five American TV shows beyond Quantico that also feature Indian leads who get to do all kinds of things ranging from not being terrorists to getting laid. Let’s watch these and feel proud of being Indian, considering our Indian pride is intricately linked to the kind of characters Indians play on Hollywood screens:
- Master of None – Aziz Ansari plays the lead role of an actor who is not a terrorist!
- The Mindy Project – Mindy Kaling plays the lead role of a doctor who is not a terrorist!
- The Big Bang Theory – Kunal Nayyar plays a parallel lead role of an astrophysicist who is not a terrorist!
- Sense8 – Tina Desai plays a parallel lead role of a pharmaceutical executives who is not a terrorist!
- New Girl – Hannah Simone plays a parallel lead role of a model and bartender who is not a terrorist!