Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Man’s World Magazine in December 2015 and is the fifth article of a monthly column on international TV.

It’s early days yet but 2015 could be the year that changed the game for Indian actors in mainstream American media. This is the year where Indians have been part of three of the top five performing movies globally: Irrfan Khan had a meaty supporting role in the worldwide smash hit Jurassic World, which is sitting at a pretty global box office of $ 1.6 Billion, Ali Fazal had more than just a blink-and-miss-it appearance in another blockbuster, Furious 7, that’s raked in $1.51 Bilion, while Mindy Kaling was among the lead voice cast of Inside Out, the Pixar animated film that’s made. $831.7 Million. Nargis Fakhri-starrer Spy didn’t rake in as much money as the rest, but at a $236.4 million box office, she’d have certainly been well-noticed in the comedy herself.

And then there’s television, where Indian actors have played prominent supporting roles in cult shows over the last few years, including Nimrat Kaur and Suraj Sharma in Homeland, Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory, Hannah Simone in New Girl, Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife, Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Danny Pudi in Community. Comedian Mindy Kaling has long been the first and only Indian to front her own show, the sitcom The Mindy Project, but by the time this year ends, she’d be part of a considerable list.

With two months to go in this year, there’ve already been four TV shows to feature Indian actors in the lead. Tina Desai in Sense8, Avan Jogia in Tut, Karan Soni in Other Space and Raza Jaffrey in Code Black have all been starring roles, but it is Priyanka Chopra and Aziz Ansari, two of the biggest global icons in their own right, who are all set to make the kind of impact that the others didn’t so far: to finally entrench Indians truly and deeply in international pop culture.

Chopra, who plays the feisty and self-assured Indian-American FBI Agent Alex Parish, in ABC network’s big fall TV series, Quantico, has had a slow but steady rise to being a global icon. She was already a National Award winner and a superstar in India before she looked west, to perhaps truly be the Miss World that she was crowned back in 2000. Debuting internationally as a pop singer with the single, In My City, for which she worked with Will.i.Am, Chopra then collaborated with Pitbull, sang live at the NFL, voiced a character in the Disney movie, Planes, and also became the first Indian brand ambassador for Guess internationally, featuring in a campaign shot by Bryan Adams.

When she decided to do a TV drama instead of looking for a movie, it was looked upon by Indian critics as a misstep. But Quantico was a script that the sharp actress had handpicked from 26 scripts that were pitched to her by ABC, and a month since its debut, the thriller series about a terrorist attack on New York soil, has proved all naysayers wrong by turning out to be one of the channel’s big hits this season. And the American public and critics can’t have enough of her: The New York Times called her ‘charismatic and commanding’, Variety called her an ‘arresting lead’ while The Wrap said she had a ‘poise and sexual spark as FBI agent Alex Parrish’.

Where Chopra is only just finding her calling as a global sensation, comedian Aziz Ansari has already been there, done that. He made his way onto the radar of American audiences with the sitcom, Parks and Recreation, where he was able to hold on to his own in a cast featuring the who’s who of comedy, including Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza. This led to roles in movies Funny People, Get Him To The Greek, 30 Minutes or Less and This is The End and made him a force to reckon with.

But it was his comedy specials, Dangerously Delicious and Buried Alive were runaway critical and commercial hits, and his stand up tours that really got the American public to sit up and take notice of the quirky, weird, and fiercely original first generation American-Indian comedian. His success has already led him to many laurels, including a BFF in Kanye West, but 2015 is the year he’s really taking it to the next level.

In June, Ansari came out with a book called Modern Romance: An Investigation that explores how the internet and technology have affected modern relationships. And in November, Netflix will premiere the comedy Master of None, which Ansari has written, produced and starred in, and that follows the romantic travails of his alter ego ‘Dev’ in modern day New York.

The clout of Ansari will be on showcase in the show, where his own parents have been cast in supporting roles, and where a bunch of celebrity cameos are to be expected. But more than that, along with Quantico, the show will also be a testament of changing times in American media, where race and colour are only functions of background. As more Indian actors get hungrier to find wider canvasses and bigger platforms to showcase their talent, expect your television screens to be crowded with familiar faces sooner than you’d think.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Think there are  better actors that I’ve not spoken about? Leave your comments below 🙂
Note: This piece first appeared in Man’s World Magazine in the December 2015 issue.
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


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