Diversity in Hollywood is a problem—but it is slowly but surely changing, and giving actors of other ethnicities hope. In fact… “Indians are in, it’s a really good time to be Indian right now.”
While agents, managers, casting directors, producers, and directors say Indian—they mean desi. If you turn on your television you’ll find more desis in various roles than you’ve ever seen before! While some roles may be stereotypical, others are blasting traditional and cultural norms.*
[Read Related: “20 South Asian Actors to Watch on Television Right Now“]
Here are a few signs that great times are ahead for desis.
1. Casting Calls Now Specifically Request Desi Actors
Casting Calls are turning more and more to Indians—in fact, Wells Fargo often calls for young Indian men and women. During an audition for a Dell commercial, the director said that across America a recent study found that unless an Indian doctor was present, patients felt less secure about procedures they were to have done, and thus, commercials were moving to reflect that demographic.
Also, some casting calls specifically want Native speakers—it’s the first call I’ve seen that acknowledges Indian languages other than Hindi, and is also on a SAG scale, which means greater pay.
2. South Asian Actors and Actresses are Already Rocking Hollywood
- Aziz Ansari created the hit Netflix show, “Master of None,” which uses actual desi actors and hits the issues of being first and second generation in America on the head.
- Priyanka Chopra is the lead of a network television series—I repeat—the LEAD!
- Karan Soni is a regular on “Blunt Talk” and is in the movie Deadpool where he doesn’t have a stereotypical Indian name.
- Mindy Kaling stars in “The Mindy Project,” a show that she has also written and produced—the show first aired on Fox and is now on Hulu.
- Manish Dayal stole hearts with his character Raj on 90210 and then in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” he made everyone run to their nearest favorite Indian restaurant.
- Poonam Patel has a feisty character on the show “Kevin from Work,” which features an episode about a Hindu funeral.
- Annapurna Sriram is currently on the Showtime show “Billions” where she’s nude and kisses a woman—talk about shattering any cultural norms of what desi woman look and typically behave like, and while it is a character, characters often give non-actors comfort and courage for issues in their own lives.
- Kunal Nayyar made $20 million in 2015 for his role of Raj in “Big Bang Theory,” according to a recent article. Twenty million for a desi—enough said.
- Anupam Kher is the father you know and love in so many Bollywood movies from the 90s, as well as from Hollywood gems like “Bend It Like Beckham”and “Silver Linings Playbook.”
- M. Night Shyamalan is the king of horror films and his talent has made him a household name.
I could go on forever, but for a list of some of the most powerful desis in Hollywood, click here.
3. Bollywood Classics Have Slowly Seeped into Mainstream Hollywood
- “Deadpool” features the song “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from “Shree 420,” which was made famous by Raj Kapoor and sung by the immensely talented Mukesh. (If you have no idea who that is, ask your grandparents and start watching some classic Bollywood). This is a huge deal because the music taps into the Golden Era of Bollywood and plays a song that resonates across generations.
- “Crazy Stupid Love” plays Indian instrumental music in random scenes in the movie and in the scene where Analeigh Tipton’s character is taking naked photos, there is a Ganesh on her shelf.
- “The Hundred-Foot Journey” features an entire desi family who moves to France to create a life that revolves around desi cuisine. The movie was supported by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, so, I mean, come on… it also has Hindi and addresses cultural stereotypes and is a complete family movie.
- “Fuller House” has an episode with an Indian theme, and while a lot of people are upset about cultural appropriation, the fact is that being Indian is in—especially when a big show has an entire section of an episode acknowledging the culture.
- The credits for “Inside Man” feature the song Shah Rukh Khan made famous: “Chaiyya Chaiyya”!
If you spot any more signs of desi influence, tell us in the comments below!
*There is still a lot of weird castings for desis, a lot of times where Indians get asked to generate accents, or Bollywood dance, play terrorists, wear cultural ‘garb’, get told they don’t look Indian enough, have to play stereotypes or characters that are completely devoid of their cultural identity, or even ‘bobble their heads’ for a role, however this is changing as evident in desis dominating Hollywood today.