Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Juice.
There is no denying that after Priyanka Chopra had her ‘YAS QUEEN!’ moment starring as the ass-kicking lead of a primetime American TV series in Quantico, the floodgates finally and definitively opened for desi talent from the heart of ‘Bollywood’ to cross over into the homes – and hearts – of a global audience.
Yes, of course, Indian-origin talent from Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Indira Verma (Game of Thrones) to Aziz Ansari (Master of None) and Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) had already jostled their way through many struggles on to the front and center stage. But Quantico represents the first time that Indian talent from Indian cinema has been picked to be the lead of a major network series, paving the way for authentic desi flavor to take over the taste buds of American TV audiences.
Already, on the heels of Priyanka slaying it on everything from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner red carpet to the Oscar stage, Netflix has become the harbinger of more good news for Indian audiences worldwide, by announcing an original TV series set in India. A Hindi and English-language adaptation of acclaimed author Vikram Chandra’s bestselling novel, Sacred Games, the series will be produced by Phantom Films, the production company founded by Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Vikas Bahl and Madhu Mantena.
It will be exciting to see which Indian actors make the cut in this already-buzzed about series, as a leading role would immediately put them on the world map. But even before we start rallying behind whoever’s announced, there are a bunch of desi actors from Bollywood who’ve been surreptitiously playing strong parts in ongoing American shows, with some even in parallel leads!
The gorgeous Nimrat Kaur, who made her big screen leading-role debut with the beautifully-crafted The Lunchbox, has only been since in one Hindi film since, this year’s blockbuster hit, Airlift. But the reason for her unhurried Bollywood career is that she’s been busy kicking killing it with her strong supporting roles in popular American shows. She played a badass Pakistani spy in season 4 of the popular Homeland, and she’s just wrapped up a parallel lead role in season 2 of Manoj Night Shyamalan’s series, Wayward Pines! The American audiences can’t have enough of her, and neither can we.
Ex-model Tina Desai made her Bollywood debut with the suspect ‘Sahi Dhande Galat Dhande’ and followed it up with a couple of even more questionable films. It is then even more inspiring that she managed to break into international cinema with the sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, opposite Dev Patel. And while she’s only done the film’s sequel in the movies since, she’s been making quite a mark on TV. As one of the eight parallel leads of the critically acclaimed Netflix series, Sense8, Tina Desai has worked with the legendary Wachowski siblings – Lana and Lilly for two seasons now, with the second season scheduled to air sometime later this year.
One of the very first international young Indian actors from India, Rahul Khanna, along with Rahul Bose, was one of the first few faces of crossover cinema. He dabbled in a few Bollywood films since, but after a brief lull, Khanna’s back in a big way with the Emmy-nominated series, The Americans. Playing a Pakistani agent in the period spy drama, Khanna’s arc was extended from an episode to an entire season after a fabulous performance that required him to show off not only his acting talent, but also his bottoms, in a graphic sex scene (alert: ladies!).
After starring opposite Aamir Khan in the cult Delhi Belly, Poorna Jagannathan was only seen in a brief cameo in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani in 2013. But that’s because for the past three years, she’s been filming a crime drama series for premium cable channel, HBO. A part of the critical smash hit, The Night Of, was first shot with late actor James Gandolfini but after his untimely demise, Jon Turtletaub took his role and the series began work all over again. In the series that’s currently on air, Poorna plays the mother of a 20-something Pakistani boy, wrongly convicted of murder, and has received glowing reviews for her measured performance.
Actor Arjun Mathur has been at the receiving end of much attention for his countless ads as well as for his MTV series, Bring on the Night. But the actor, who stole scenes in Luck By Chance, Barah Anna, My Name is Khan and the recent Angry Indian Goddesses, has added another ace up his sleeve with a supporting role in the PBS series, Indian Summers. The series also stars many veteran Indian actors like Lilette Dubey and Roshan Seth, but Arjun’s standout performance has been particularly spoken of by critics.
BOX: Where else to spot Indian actors on American TV
Anil Kapoor – After playing Omar Hassan, the President of ‘Kamistan’, Anil Kapoor made a Jhakaas appearance in the ongoing season of Family Guy in the episode titled ‘Road to India’
Purab Kohli and Anupam Kher – The charming Purab Kohli has a strong supporting role in Sense8 as the fiancé of Tina Desai’s character, while veteran Anupam Kher plays her father.
Sikandar Kher – News is that Anupam Kher’s step-son Sikandar Kher has been tapped into playing the negative lead on the second season of Sense8.
Sugandha Garg – The Jaane Tu Ya Jaana Na actress, who has been consistently starring in acclaimed crossover Indian movies, can be seen in a supporting role, along with Arjun Mathur, in Indian Summers.
Shenaz Treasury – Besides starring in around 50 episodes of the daytime soap opera, One Life to Live, the former MTV VJ and actress Shenaz Treasury can be seen as a recurring contributor on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.
Freida Pinto – The first Indian actress to get leading roles in Hollywood, Freida Pinto has signed up opposite Idris Elba in a prestigious mini series Guerrilla, to be written, directed and produced by 12 Years a Slave writer, John Ridley.
Irrfan Khan – Yes, India’s most famous international export Irrfan Khan will be back again on TV after his breakout role in the HBO series, In Treament. Khan has signed up to star in an international mini-series on World War II.
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Note: This piece first appeared in The Juice in the August 2016 issue.
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