Names you can drop. Iconic Indian characters in Hollywood.
From caricatures to playing pivotal parts, Indian characters have come a long way in western pop culture
Indian characters have grown from being a department store attendant who speaks with pebbles in his mouth, to characters intrinsic to a plot. We take a look at some key Indian characters, written not just to cater to the immigrant population, in western popular culture.
Raj from Big Bang Theory
Raj (Rajesh Ramayan Koothrappali) is an astrophysicist, who has suffered from anxiety, gaming addiction, and is often the cause of discomfort due to his metrosexuality. While the series doesn’t revolve around Raj, his character is important to the plot and he brings in a level of freshness and innocence. What’s best is that the humour related to Raj is intelligent and rarely stereotypical or clichéd.
Mindy from The Mindy Project
Definitely a first for an Indian origin actor, wherein an entire show has her playing the central character. Mindy Lahiri is a gynaecologist, who has had her share of flings and relationships, but by and large has been rather unlucky in finding true love. The series is notable for being written by the show’s lead actor Mindy Kaling and the fact that several stars have made guest appearances in it.
Raj from The Archies
The inclusion of Raj Patel was deemed the publishing world’s attempt to be more inclusive (a couple of years after Raj’s introduction, Archie Comics launched Kevin Keller, an openly gay character). Raj has an amazing intellect, and hails from a gifted family of a doctor father, scientist mother and a sister who is a child prodigy. Raj though, aims to make movies. He is often found with a camera and keeps recording the situations his friends are in. The publishers attempted to pair Raj and Betty as a couple, but changed plans after initiating the concept.
Apu from The Simpsons
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has for long drawn reactions for being one of the most racially stereotypical characters on TV. However, the makers of The Simpsons have been known to make audacious (sometimes outrageous) references to their characters, and in all probability, Apu’s character had been written with an idea to remind viewers of the way they really perceive Indians in their society. While not intrinsic to the plot of the series, Apu has had his fair share of time in the sun, with several episodes having him as the main character.
Hadji from Jonny Quest
If you were an avid Cartoon Network viewer, you would surely know Hadji Singh from the Jonny Quest animated series. Hadji was included in the series when Jonny’s father, Professor Quest visited Calcutta and adopted the brave street urchin, Hadji. In the beginning, Hadji was portrayed with one having mystical powers, which was changed when a more mature version of the series was launched.
Mowgli from Jungle Book
Everyone probably remembers Mowgli – the lovable human child, brought up by wolves. While Rudyard Kipling’s legendary Jungle Book was based in India, with all characters being Indian, Mowgli has become a part of research, thesis, and bed time stories in the west.
Asok from Dilbert
Asok (pronounced Ashok) is a maverick young intern, who works in the same office as Dilbert. Being a fan of Indian music, and having “family in India”, Asok is essentially Indian, but the concept is seldom brought up in the comic strip. Asok is known to be a problem-solver, but almost always ends up getting blamed for others’ mistakes. He often earns the ire of his pointy-haired boss, which gets him the sympathy of fans of the world famous comic strip.
Kumar from Harold And Kumar
The movie series is often described as a disguised take on the western view of immigrants and minority characters. While Indian characters are either depicted as caricatures and unimportant, Korean characters too have been meted the same treatment. However, in the Harold and Kumar series, a Korean and Indian are the stars. Kumar is a free-spirited, sometimes obnoxious extrovert. He is portrayed as trying to break away from the shadows of his successful doctor father and brother.
Bakshi from The Party
A movie, which is said to be the inspiration behind Amitabh Bachchan’s character in Namak Halal, The Party is almost four and a half decades old, and yet never stops being funny. Hrundi V Bakshi, played by the legendary Peter Sellers (with black face paint; typical much?) is a fumbling, bumbling acting extra, who messes up his scene repeatedly. Some confusion leads to him being invited to the titular party. While Bakshi’s innocence and ignorance make him the butt of jokes, he emerges as the most loved character. What’s noteworthy is that he gets the girl in the end!
The Great Khali from The WWE
A former policeman in Punjab, Dalip Singh Rana answered his true calling and adopting the stage name of The Great Khali in the WWE. Arguably the only wrestler who could be impossible to beat single-handedly due to his size and strength, Khali became the World Heavyweight Champion in 2007. Up until 2014 (when his contract expired), he had been written into prominent plot lines in the WWE. He has also acted in a few movies and TV series.
Kelly Kapoor from The Office (TV series), Dhalsim from Street Fighter II (video game), Great Tiger from Punch Out (Nintendo game), Neal Shaara aka Thunderbird and Karima Shapandar aka Omega Sentinel from Marvel Comics’ X-Men, genetics specialist Mohinder Suresh from Heroes (TV series), Lawrence Kutner from House (TV series).
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