Tonight on ABC, there's a big new ensemble sitcom with a South Asian character in it. It's called "The Knights of Prosperity" and the character's name is Gourishankar "Do not call me Gary" Subramaniam (he's played by Iranian-American actor Maz Jobrani). The show, which was originally titled "Let's Rob Mick Jagger" (because that's the premise of the show - ordinary guys decide to rob Mick Jagger's apartment), describes him thus:
Back home in India, Gourishankar "Gary" Subramaniam (Maz Jobrani) was a superstar lawyer, but here in New York City he drives a cab to make ends meet. Reluctant to join the group at first, Gary has a change in heart when Eugene reminds him that, although he was a winner at home, here he chauffeurs old ladies to Broadway matinees.
[You can watch the entire episode later tonight online - free - at http://dynamic.abc.go.com/streaming/landing]
Anyone with any qualms about having a desi character being played by a non-South Asian actor should note that in Hollywood it's fairly common to see brown actors of various ethnicities playing various other ethnicities. After all, the most famous fictional Iraqi on American TV is played by a South Asian. We are talking about Sayid Jarrah, a former Iraqi Republican Guard on "Lost", who is played by Naveen Andrews.
This got us thinking: What are the other famous fictional desi TV characters? There are occasional desi sightings on American TV, but what about the recurring characters (at least three episodes)? Here are some memorable ones. Send in your thoughts on these folks and anyone else we should have had by posting in the comments section below.
- Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Kwik-E-Mart owner on "The Simpsons" (1989-present), voiced by Hank Azaria. [Also see this SAJAforum posting on an Apu makeover]
- Mohinder Suresh, superhero in "Heroes" (2006-present), played by Sendhil Ramamurthy.
- Chandra Suresh, father of a superhero in "Heroes" (2006-present), played by Erik Avari.
- Amita Ramanujam, math genius on "Numb3rs" (2005-present), played by Navi Rawat.
- Neela Rasgotra, doctor on "ER" (2003-present), played by Parminder Nagra.
- Kelly Kapoor, customer service rep on the U.S. version of "The Office" (2005-present), played by Mindy Kaling.
- Dr. Mahesh "Bug" Vijayaraghavensatanaryanamurthy, a doctor on "Crossing Jordan" (2001-present), played by Ravi Kapoor.
- Raji Bakshi, a TV producer on "Lateline" (1998-99), played by Ajay Naidu.
- Dr. Siddhartha "Sid" Shandar, a doctor on "Gideon's Crossing" (2000-2001), played by Ravi Kapoor.
- Jonathan, "30 Rock" (2006-present) played by Maulik Pancholy.
- Sanjay, on "Weeds" (2005-present), played by Maulik Pancholy.
- Babu Bhatt, a Pakistani cafe owner on "Seinfeld" (1991-97), played by Brian George.
- Waitress on Frasier (2003-2004), played by Amita Bhalla.
- Saraswati Kumar on "Las Vegas" (2004-2006), played by Lakshmi Manchu.
Meanwhile, South Asians playing recurring non-South Asian characters on American TV:
- Sayid Jarrah, a former Iraqi Republican Guard (2004-present), played by Naveen Andrews.
- Theresa Diaz, a Hispanic hotel worker on "The O.C." (2006-present), played by Navi Rawat.
- Niobe of the Veroni on "Rome" (2006-present), played by Indira Verma.
- Ahmet on "24" (2006-present), played by Kal Penn.
- Papi on "The L Word" (2006-present), played by Janina Gavankar.
- Dr. Adrienne Holland, a doctor on "3 lbs" (2006), played by Indira Verma
- Also: Rhona Mitra regularly plays non-South Asians in various shows, including "Boston Legal," Party of Five" and "Gideon's Crossing."
UPDATE: Thanks to reader FatMango, who posted this in the comments section, we have this very useful site and all its listings:
Oh wow, after poking around for the legendary Kuda Bux who had a show in the 50s, I found a website listing pretty much all the Indians on TV from the 50 through the 80s. Holy cow, I can't believe there were so many. How strange to think of Indians on television in the 50s!!
Who else? As long as they have been in at least three episodes, they qualify. Send in your thoughts on these folks and anyone else we should have had by posting in the comments section below.
Thanks to the following folks their input into this list: Rocky Agrawal, Jas, Kavi Ladnier, Anita Malik, Anandi Premlall.