Indians in American prime-time television

I watch certain shows on TV on a regular basis and they are predominantly comedies. A lot of these shows feature Indians, or rather, persons of South Asian descent.

Here’s the list. Now this is certainly not an exhaustive list of ALL people of South Asian descent in American prime-time television, just the shows that I watch.

How I Met Your Mother – Mondays on CBS 7 pm Central

Kal Penn started featuring from season 7 (the current one) in the role of Robin’s therapist, Kevin, and they eventually start dating. Born Kalpen Suresh Modi, to Gujrati parents in New Jersey, Penn has started in a slew of movies. Since early 2009, he has been the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, which he left temporarily to shoot for the latest Harold and Kumar movie.

Though I like Penn a lot, I think he truly does justice to his potential in serious roles, as a drama actor, like in The Namesake.

The Big Bang Theory – Thursdays on CBS 7 pm Central

Kunal Nayyar stars as Rajesh Koothrapalli (Raj), a Ph.D. holder who works as particle astrophysicist at Caltech. Nayyar was born to Punjabi parents in London and moved to US to pursue higher studies.

Easily the best of the lot in this list, his comic sense and timing are excellent. As is true to all roles in all sit-coms, his role (as an innocent Indian genius not able to talk to girls) doesn’t offer him great variance, he still manages to bring about a cheery demeanor in his screen time.

Rules of Engagement – Thursdays on CBS 7:30 pm Central

Adhir Kalyan, as Timmy – Russell Dunbar’s MBA-holding, slick-talking personal assistant, became a regular cast member from season 4 (currently in season 6). Kalyan’s parents are South African citizens (his mom a sitting member of the South African national Parliament) of Indian origin. He was born in Dunbar, SA and moved to London to pursue his acting career after his schooling.

Kalyan’s British accent is a music to the ears. Being the underdog (Russell Dunbar is a bumbling, rich, inept boss) Timmy shows great resolve to overcome his situation and make the most of it.

Community – Thursdays on NBC 7 pm Central

Danny Pudi plays Abed Nadir, a “pop-culture-obsessed film student with an evident developmental disorder” [wikipedia]. Half-Indian and half-Polish, Pudi was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago.

Probably my least favourite in this list.

Parks and Recreation – Thursdays on NBC 7:30 pm Central

Aziz Ansari shlam-glams you as the glib and ambitious (though more talk than substance) Tom Haverford, working in the department. Born in Columbia, South Carolina to Indian-Muslim parent who immigrated from Tamil Nadu.

Ansari’s character espouses non-existent economic and managerial diktats in such convincing fashion, you would be fooled into believing that he has great business acumen. He’s world-weary and wants to make a mark. You cannot but help loving his character.

The Office – Thursdays on NBC 8 pm Central

Mindy Kaling portrays the chatty, bubbly and celebrity obsessed Kelly Kapoor [NBC]. She also is a writer and co-executive producer for The Office.  With an official name of Vera Chokalingam, Kaling was born to Tamil parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As with the rest of the cast of The Office, she is peculiar to say the least, but in a good way. She’s a chatterbox and the ideas and thoughts she proclaims are essentially commentaries on the stereotype she represents (she’s one of the writers so that gives her the added advantage of the best lines!). Though I find it mildly irritating when her character talks for more than 30 seconds!

Whitney – Thursdays on NBC 8:30 pm Central

Maulik Navin Pancholy gives life to Neal –  a real modern-day Renaissance man, who is sensitive, cool and knows a little bit about everything [NBC]. He is born to Indian  parents who immigrated to the US.

I like his character, but the main character of the show (Whitney) and her boyfriend gets the lion share of screen time.

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