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A Beginner’s Guide: Game of Thrones #TheJuice #TV

Written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Juice.

A storm of swords is brewing. The Khaleesi and her dragons are going strength to strength in the East, the Lannisters are now reunited and pose a potent threat to anyone who tries to take over King’s Landing, Arya Stark has come of age and is looking for vengeance in the Riverlands, but there is a more dangerous enemy lurking in the shadows beyond the wall. Will the war for the Iron Throne be put on hold to counter the white walkers and the wildlings, even if Stannis Baratheon and his black magic mistress are the only ones taking caution? Or should we be prepared for the ominous forewarning of the season 4 trailer of The Game of Thrones: ‘All men must die’?

If these sentences don’t make any sense to you, I urge you to break free of whatever television prison you have locked yourself in, and WATCH GAME OF THRONES NOW! Because this is the only television series in history that has the words ‘throne’, ‘war’, ‘black magic’, ‘zombies’ and ‘dragons’ in the same synopsis. And if that sounds like the description of a B-film, you only need to experience the show to believe it.

Created by DB Weiss and David Benioff for HBO, and based on the George RR Martin’s bestselling series, a Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones isn’t merely an ambitious television show, it is a concerted effort in trying to change the landscape of what conventional television is. Think the production, scale and quality of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and episode-by-episode drama on the level of a Sopranos or The Wire. And the themes that the show tackles, from honour and justice to greed and jealousy to vengeance, give the series a humanity that goes hand in hand with the grandeur, instead of conflicting with it. Also, there is plenty of gratituous nudity, and that can’t hurt, right (if you are into that sort of a thing, *ahem*)?

So here’s a handy guide to the world of Game of Thrones, to entice you into watching, what is possibly the greatest event TV series ever made by man:

THE SETTING: The world of Game of Thrones essentially revolves around Westeros, which contains the Seven Kingdoms, each belonging to a different ‘house’ but ruled by one king, as well as the region beyond a great wall constructed to keep out whatever the hell resides beyond it (think an unpleasant cocktail of zombies, ghosts, wildlings and unheard-of animals). The seat of power in Westeros resides in the Crownlands, whose capital city King’s Landing is home to The Iron Throne, which, basically, everyone in the seven kingdoms want to get hold of.

HOUSE STARK: The quintessential heroes are House Stark – the rulers of The North, led by Lord Eddard Stark, and his family, that consists of the most honourable people on celluloid since The Fellowship of Lord of the Rings (Think of Lord Stark as Aragorn). But as we soon come to realize, being good is of no good in Westeros, where everyone has the propensity to be killed at an alarming rate.

HOUSE BARATHEON: At the beginning of the series, Robert Baratheon is the King of Westeros, and Lord Stark, his liege. But as events unfold in the world of the Seven Kingdoms, we realize his family, the Baratheons, which rules from The Stormlands, may want to claim the throne to themselves, particularly Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s elder brother, who is supported in his cause by the sexy priestess (never thought I’d say this), Melisandre, who practices some insane black magic.

HOUSE LANNISTER: Undoubtedly the most interesting family in the history of celluloid families, House Lannister is ruled by Lord Tywin Lannister, the richest man in the seven kingdoms, and also the most powerful because his daughter, Cersei is married to Robert Baratheon, who *may* be more than just a sister to her dashing brother, Jamie Lannister, and whose son, Joffery Bratheon, *may* be a Lannister, if you know what I mean. Yes, it’s a twisted family. The smartest Lannister, Tyrion, born a dwarf to Lord Tywin, is almost an outcast to his family, but if there was a single reason to watch Game of Thrones, it would be Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion. Possibly my favourite TV character of all time!

HOUSE TARGARYEN: The rulers of the Iron Throne before Robert Baratheon took over, whatever’s left of House Targaryen after a war in the past – Viserys Targareyn and his sister, Daenerys – now resides in Essos, the landmass across the narrow sea, inhabited mostly by barbarians like the Dothraki people. Danaerys is married off to the Khal of the Dothraki, and becomes ‘The Khaleesi’, but Danaerys is more than just an ordinary human being – she is the mother of dragons. Yes, real, huge-ass, fire-spitting, multi-coloured dragons!

OTHERS: Apart from these four houses, the major houses are also House Tyrell, that rules The Reach, and that may have soon have a bigger role in the story than we think and House Greyjoy, who rule the Iron Islands, and who’ve never for a moment stopped thinking of the throne for themselves. But possibly the group of people more important than all the houses themselves are the Night’s Watch, who guard the Wall, and protect the seven kingdoms from the creepiness beyond it.

SO, BASICALLY: A war for the Iron Throne is raging in the seven kingdoms between the different kings, and each has his/her own reason to claim the throne – the most important being vengeance. The ‘others’ beyond the wall are suddenly coming back to life after years of being undead, and so are the dragons who everyone thought were extinct, and Danaerys  is not going to be shy to use them to get the throne herself. In short, the baap of all TV series, Game of Throne is NOT TO BE MISSED!



  1. HOUSE OF CARDS: Think the struggle for power, the deceit, the greed and the drama of Game of Thrones, set in modern day, in the White House no less, and you get House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey and executive produced by David Fincher, this show will have you addicted.
  2. THE WALKING DEAD: An event series that not only matches GOT in production quality and scale, but also in non stop action and nail biting drama, The Walking Dead is based in a post apocalyptic world where zombies have taken over and a group of humans are trying their best to survive. Created by The Shawshank Redemption’s, Frank Darabont.
  3. BOARDWALK EMPIRE: Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire is a slow burning period drama about the rise of mob culture and the mafia, during the prohibition era. Starring Steve Buscemi, the show concocts a fictional narrative around real life historical figures, from Al Capone to J. Edgar Hoover.
  4. THE RETURNED: A creepy, haunting and surprisingly touching French horror Television series, The Returned is about a set in a town where the dead suddenly come back to life, but not as zombies. They are their own selves, and have no recollection of ever having been dead. One of the most accomplished supernatural dramas in recent times.
  5. MOST SHOWS ON HBO: The truth is HBO is responsible for upping the ante and pushing the boundaries of what television is supposed to be. So whether it was Sopranos, the mob drama that started the revolution, or the western Deadwood, or The Wire, arguably the best TV show of its genre, or Rome, True Blood, Band of Brothers and the recent True Detective, if intelligent and fantastic dramas are what you seek, try the HBO library, and you shall be occupied for months!

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Juice in the April 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.


Thank you, How I Met Your Mother #Blog #TV

Woke up at 5.30 am to watch the live stream of the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, with Sagar Taneja across two countries, along with the millions who watched it in the US, because we didn’t want to miss being part of the shared cultural experience the ending would be. It was supposed to be legend-wait for it-dary!

BUT. The writers ruined it. The ending was the most contrived, most out of place and most unbelievably cliched ending of all (HIMYM may be the LOST of sitcoms!). It didn’t do any justice to what the writers had worked so hard to build towards all season – and perhaps, all 9 seasons. Still, as they say, it’s the journey that matters, and not the destination, so here’s a fond farewell to possibly the most beautiful season of HIMYM, that, in some masterfully written 24 episodes, gave depth and maturity to what was once just a FRIENDS wannabe.

The heart of all fantastic shows is genuine emotion and hats off to creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to have turned a sitcom into a sometimes melancholy, but always warm and enriching comedy-drama about the only things that matter in life: love and friendship. It pleasantly surprised me how often the eternally optimistic Ted Mosby’s quest to finding the mother of his kids tugged at my heart in this season because when you’ve been looking for love that long – and then you actually find it, there’s nothing more perfect.

And it was just that – perfect. Cristin Milioti as the mother was perfect. All the flashforwards between Ted and the mother were perfect. The first date was perfect. The romance was perfect. The marriage was perfect. And the culmination of their story, to me, was perfect. And that’s where the series culminated for me. In that moment when Ted met the mother and shared the yellow umbrella with her, and they realised how the universe had conspired in bringing them together, and they said ‘Hi’ to each other at the end of their conversation . Perfect!

HIMYM, in its own quirky way, reinstated to me many things I believe in myself: THIS:; How, just because you are an adult, you don’t need to act as one; How, if you try for something long enough, the universe conspires for you to get it; How the little stories we remember to tell are the ones that keep us going in finding new stories to tell; How, things may not always turn out to be perfect, but if you have love and friendship in your life, everything turns out okay; How, being eternally hopeful may possibly be looked upon as stupid, but hope is also possibly the only thing that is eternal – even when one story ends, another may begin if you have hope; and How, there are some people in your life you can never, ever let go off.

In the legendary words of Ted (S09E22), “Here’s the secret kids. None of us can vow to be perfect. In the end all we can do is promise to love each other with everything we’ve got. Because love is the best thing we do.”

Thank you Ted Mosby, Barney Stincon, Marshall Eriksen, Robin Scherbatsky, Lily Aldrin & Tracy McConell and thank you Josh Radnor, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan & Cristin Milioti for the love. So long!

Note: This piece was first written on April 1, 2014

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.

Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoon, on Twitter: @tanejamainhoon, on Instagram: @tanejamainhoon, on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

2013 Roundup: Indian and International TV #ScholasticYearbook #TV

It is arguably too early to say this, but 2013 could be the year that changed both Indian and international television forever.  In February 2013, American internet streaming service Netflix premiered a political drama series, House of Cards, developed by Academy-nominated writer Beau Willimon, starring two-times Academy Award winning actor, Kevin Spacey, with the first episode directed by two-times Academy Award Best Director nominee, David Fincher, who is also one of the executive producers of the series (Phew! What a credit roll!).

Among the first few full-length, season-based series (generally called a ‘TV series’ but obviously not in this case) ever produced for the internet, House of Cards made history by becoming the very original first only series to be nominated for television’s highest honour, the Emmy Awards. Nominated for 14 Emmys, the series picked up two – for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series (won by David Fincher) and for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series (Laray Mayfield/Julie Schubert).

Netflix, that was earlier an on-demand internet service for watching the latest in movies and TV shows, is one of the first few online distribution outlets that ventured into multi-episode, TV-length original programming with Norwegian-American series, Lilyhammer, in 2012. The moderate success of the show, along with the phenomenal success of House of Cards and the two shows Netflix followed it up with – prison comedy Orange is the New Black, and a fourth season of the cult comedy Arrested Development – has proved, once more, that content is king, no matter what form it is consumed in.

With video-sharing website Youtube, internet e-commerce giant Amazon, internet streaming service Hulu and even Microsoft’s online gaming service Xbox Live set to launch premium ‘web television series’, the future of content is already here. While television in its current form will not be obsolete anytime soon, the day when computer will be the new idiot box, bought instead of a television set to watch (ironically enough) ‘television content’ , is not that far away!

On the desi side of things, in October 2013, one of the most expensive television shows ever produced in India, the Anil Kapoor-starrer 24, an adaptation of the hit American TV series of the same name, premiered after months of anticipation. With a reported cost exceeding Rs 50 crores, this is an Indian fiction series of many firsts. It is the first time an A-list Indian film ‘star’ of the stature of Anil Kapoor is playing the lead on television, where generally A-list actors only host or judge shows, or make ‘cameo’ appearances to promote their movies. It is the first time an international TV series has been adapted on such a massive scale in India, and also the first time a majority of the 24 episodes of the series were shot in advance, in an industry where one-line stories are stretched to multiple years!

Moreover, the kind of Bollywood talent involved in the series is mind-boggling. 24 is produced by Anil Kapoor, who starred on the eighth season of the original American version of the show alongside contemporary television icon, Kiefer ‘Jack Bauer’ Sutherland. The series is directed by Delhi Belly director Abhinay Deo, written by Rang De Basanti writer Rensil D’Silva, with dialogues by Kaante writer Milap Milan Zaver. It co-stars, along with Kapoor, an array of film talent like Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Rahul Khanna, Tisca Chopra, Mandira Bedi and Neil Bhoopalam.

Indian TV channel Colors has reportedly invested Rs 85 Crore in the show, with the aim of making it one of India’s only TV series with a season-based format (a second season is said to be already in the works). While it is a bit premature to predict the impact of the show on Indian TV, it is suffice to say that if the show gets a high number of eyeballs, there is a good chance that television content in India will start catering to not just the saas, bahu and the beti, but also the sasur, damaad and beta! With Anurag Basu rumoured to be planning an Indian adaptation of the international series Prison Break and an Anurag Kashyap-led Amitabh Bachchan starrer already in the works for the TV channel, Sony, Indian television looks set for a much-needed overhaul in the years to come. Let’s just hope that it arrives before we become as old as the storylines of our current batch of archaic TV shows!

Even as we hope for a fantastic 2014, here are the ups and downs in the land of television in 2013:



Through the year, General Entertainment Channel (GEC) Star Plus more or less maintained the least in terms of viewership amongst all channels, with Zee TV and Colors juggling second and third spots between them. Sometimes Sony TV would climb upwards but usually it maintained its fourth position. Life OK and Sahara came in last. A major development of 2013 was that Television Viewership in Thousands (TVTs) replaced Total Rating Points (TRPs) as the measurement for television viewership in India, as digitisation was brought about across the country.

And of course, while GECs led the way for both urban and rural viewers through the year, towards the end of the year, Star World launched a subscription-based channel, Star World Premiere, that aims to air popular international TV shows like How I Met Your Mother, on the same day as their international broadcast, a first for India!


Have a look at this list: Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Madhubala – Ek Ishq Ek Junoon, Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaar, Pavitra Rishta, Is Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, Kehta Hai Dil Jee Le Zara. These are some of the top performing Indian shows of 2013. Notice anything in common? Maybe the words ‘Rishta’, ‘Ishq’, ‘Pyaar’, ‘Pyaara’ and ‘Dil’ give you a hint? Yes, Indian television suddenly seemed to realise that before a woman becomes a bahu and then a saas, she typically falls in love with a man (either before or after marriage), and that could make for a TV show too! And considering the long legacy of our ‘me too’ television history, once the first such show became a success, every channel had at least three such shows on air at any given point of time. They had different faces and the same storylines that eventually did turn into saas-bahu sagas, because the next step after love is obviously marriage and the dreaded in-laws.

Even as love ruled the airwaves with the above shows and shows like Diya Aur Baati (about arranged marriage) and Qubool Hai (About love in the Muslim community), which were the biggest hits of the year, the hits from the years before continued to fare strongly be it Balika Vadhu, Uttaran, Sasural Simar Ka, Punar Vivah, Veera, Saath Nibhana Saathiya and Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke, some of which completed milestones between 200 – 1400 episodes (in the case of Balika Vadhu!). As they say, ‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’, and that holds completely true in the case of Indian television. Here’s hoping 24 India brings about some true change for once.

Mythological and Historical

The interest of Indian television audiences in mythological and historical television shows remained steady in 2013. The greatest Indian epic ever written, the Mahabharata, was recreated on television again by Star Plus in 2013, even though a similar exercise by Ekta Kapoor in 2008, for 9X, was a massive disaster. But this version, named Mahabharat, which was targeted primarily at the youth through its large PR and marketing activations across the country, opened to great TVTs and continued to hold fort through 2013.  The show, whose creative team counted amongst its talent legendary Indian writer Salim Khan, author Devdutt Patnaik, Oscar-winning designer Bhanu Athaiya, music composers Ismail Darbar and Ajay-Atul and art director Omung Kumar, was reportedly made on a budget of Rs 150 Crores, a lot of which was spent on special effects, the likes of which were seen less on Indian television.

The historical, Jodha Akbar (Zee TV), produced by Ekta Kapoor, was another huge success, and gathered fantastic TVTs throughout the year. Other shows in this category like Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, Bharat Ka Veer Putra – Maharana Pratap, Buddha and Ganesh Leela were also watched fervently in 2013.


Comedy also continued to rule the roost in the year but one show stood out because of its historic ratings and critical acclaim both: Comedy Nights with Kapil (Colors). The show, hosted by stand-up comedian Kapil Sharma went on air in the month of June and quickly became a must-watch television viewing event for families because of its quirky format, the likeable personality of its host, and the enjoyable interactions between Sharma and the celebrity guests of the episode, which included India’s biggest names in entertainment.

Sony TV’s Comedy Circus continued doing well through the year, Sab TV’s Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah continued to be amongst the top 20 highest rating shows of the year, and many other shows like Nautanki – The Comedy Theater (Colors), Hassvya kavi sammelen Wah! Wah! Kya Baat Hai! (Sab TV) and most SAB TV fiction comedies, led by police comedy FIR, had above average viewership through the year.

Reality Television

Tired of watching regular youngsters on talent shows showing off their youthful energy and skills, the audiences gave a mighty thumbs up to any show that brought them kids, parents and even grandparents on their TV screens and made them feel good about themselves. Hence, it was clearly the year of Spin Offs, as Indian Idol Junior, Dance India Dance Super Moms, Junior Master Chef and Nach Baliye Shriman V/s Shrimati did exceedingly well in the off season of their parent talent shows.

Shows like India’s Best Dramebaaz (featuring kids), India’s Dancing Superstars (featuring all ages), and Connected Hum Tum (featuring married or about-to-be-married women) also did well, while new seasons of Jhhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Kaun Banega Crorepati and Big Boss continued their dominance as India’s premiere reality shows. The Bachelorette, where Mallika Sherawat took home a reported Rs 30 crore just too test contestants and find a suitable boy to date, opened to good numbers too.

The success of Crime Patrol also gave way to many crime-based shows like Shaitan – A Criminal Mind, Savdhaan India – India Fights Back and Police – Dial 100 lured in audiences with thrilling re-enactments of real incidents of crime.

Youth Television

Channel V continued its rise as India’s only youth GEC, leaving far behind its old competitors MTV India and UTV Bindass. With its flagship shows Gumrah – End of Innocence, about crime amongst youngsters, and daily serials Dil Dosti Dance, Humse Hai Life, The Buddy Project, The Serial and Surveen Guggal – Topper of the Year, the channel left its old identity of reality and music programming far, far behind.

MTV India, on the other hand, kept experimenting and mixing it up with veteran successful reality shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla (in their 10th and 6th seasons now, respectively), established music properties Coke Studio @ MTV, Unplugged, Soundtripping and their first attempt at a season-based fiction comedy TV series, Reality Stars, a comedy reality series, TimeOut with Imam, and a show on cybercrime, Webbed. While some experiments paid off and others failed for MTV India, they continued maintaining their identity as a universal youth and music channel.

While MTV remained ahead of UTV Bindass in viewership for the major part of the year, it faced tough competition towards the end of the year as their show Yeh Hai Aashiqui, based on emotional real-life love stories, received major love from the audiences. Bindass’ regular reality shows, Superdude, Big Switch and Emotional Atyachar also fared well, although their experiment in re-launching their identity as ‘Rest Less’ had mixed results.



If there was one show that defined the year 2013 in international television, it was AMC’s multiple award-winning television series Breaking Bad, that reached its epic, violent conclusion after five years and five seasons. The show, created by Vince Gilligan and starring Bryan Cranston as a high school chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord, has been hailed as the greatest television series ever made by critics and fans alike. Its final episode was watched by over 10 million people on its first broadcast across USA, and by millions more through internet streaming and illegal downloads the world over, in what was a shared cultural experience only experienced during sports broadasts. As the curtains fell for the show on September 29, 2013, television fans across the world fell into collective momentary depression, not sure how they are going to live the rest of their lives without the addiction that was the show, Breaking Bad.

On the other hand, another cable television darling, Showtime’s Dexter, starring Michael C Hall, also came to its conclusion after eight seasons, but left most fans and critics unhappy with the way it ended. Apart from the previously mentioned landmark year for original Netflix series, the new shows that were loved by fans and critics alike were Kevin Bacon-starrer The Following, about a serial-killer who starts a cult; Under The Dome, adapted by Stephen King’s book of the same name about a town that’s surrounded by a mysterious dome, Marvel’s first television series, Agents of SHIELD, which takes place in the time after 2012’s smash hit movie, The Avengers, and brings back to life the much loved Agent Coulson (played by Clarg Gregg), James Spader-starrer The Blacklist, about the world’s most-wanted criminal, and Sleepy Hollow, a fantasy drama about the resurrection.

The rest of the year saw new seasons of the same shows in reality television, serialised fiction and sitcoms faring spectacularly. The Voice, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance continued their dominance as America’s most-loved reality shows. In cable television, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Homeland, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, and Suits, continued causing mass mania and innumerable dinner-table debates amongst television lovers, even as families and kids continued to adorn network television’s top-rated, invincible sitcoms The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Simpsons and How I Met Your Mother, which started its journey towards the end with its final season.

Among network television serialised fiction shows, the second season of Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes’ show, Scandal, which stars Kerry Washington as a crisis fixer in Washington DC, became an all-American phenomenon, as television buffs lapped it up in millions, just like they did Grey’s Anataomy. The Good Wife, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, Elementary, Castle, Glee, Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy continued their ratings juggernaut while crime procedurals CSI, NCIS, Law and Order and Criminal Minds did as well as they’ve always done.

Finally, among late night shows, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno continued to battle it out for audience attention as the funniest talk shows on TV, while The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Real Time with Bill Maher continued to master political satire.

Note: This article first appeared in the Scholastic Yearbook 2014. 

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.


Looking for the real man in Suits

Gabriel Macht interviewed by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over phone for Man’s World India. Original article:

According to Comedy Central, over three million Indians watch the hit television legal drama, Suits, every day. And, its central character, the rule-breaking lawyer Harvey Spector, is fast emerging as a role model for men across the country. As the show enters its fourth season, we go looking for the real man inside him


Hollywood has a very precise idea of what it takes to be a man; rather, what it takes to be the man. The quintessential man, the manly man, the man’s man, the stuff of legend. A man must be able to woo ladies without having to try; ladies must want a man for what he is naturally. James Bond is a man. So is Shaft. A man must be silent and brooding; ideally, a man must not feel at all (and if he does, no one should ever know). Batman is a man (the Christopher Nolan version).  So is Rambo. So is Clint Eastwood in every movie ever. A man has honor; he has a code that all men must live by, but only real men ever do. The Godfather, King Leonidas, Tyler Durden and Maximus Decimus Meriduis are all men. A man can throw a punch when he needs to; and there is always need for a man to throw a punch. John McClane is a man. So is Liam Neeson (and not merely his character in Taken).To top it all, a man is handsome, suave and stylish, but ruggedly; a man is definitely not meterosexual. Gordon Gekko is a man. So are Frank Bullitt and Ryan Gosling’s Driver in Drive.

If Hollywood is right, then there are few who fit the description of a real man better than television’s Harvey Spector (played by Gabriel Macht), from the lawyer drama Suits, which has quickly mushroomed into somewhat of a phenomenon among American TV addicts in India. With a reach of 3.3 million viewers (stats provided by Comedy Central India), Suits is currently the highest rated English language show in its genre and its central character, Spector, is exactly the kind of man ladies want, and men want to be. But who is Gabriel Macht, the man behind the character?

Gabriel Macht is an accomplished man. At 42, the drama graduate from Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts, is happily married with a daughter, to fellow actor Jacinda Barrett (The Namesake, The Last Kiss), has a great job that keeps getting better – Suits is in its fourth season now and considering its popularity and ratings, likely to continue for more – and some solid indie acting credits along the way. In a career spanning 36 years from the age of 8, when he played his first role as a child actor in ‘Why Would I Lie?’, just some of the Hollywood legends he’s acted alongside include Robert De Niro (The Good Shephard), Al Pacino (The Recruit), Anthony Hopkins (Bad Company), Gene Hackman (Behind Enemy Lines) and John Travolta (A Love Song For Bobby Long).

Gabriel Macht is also a man of his word. When I call his hotel room in New York at the designated time of the interview, the reception desk tells me there’s no one by the name of ‘Gabriel Macht’ staying there. I try ‘Harvey Spector’ and the reception desk laughs me off. As I put the phone down and mail Macht’s publicist and the minutes fly by, I assume the worst, when I get a tweet from the verified account of Macht, @GabrielMacht, “Call me again and they shall put you through. Apologies”. Macht has somehow hunted me down on Twitter and when I call him, he profusely apologises for what was, essentially, the hotel’s fault: the personnel at the reception desk had changed and Macht’s instructions hadn’t been passed on to him. Not many celebrities of his stature would do such a thing, so I’m definitely impressed.

Gabriel Macht is a gentleman, alright, so I ask him if he is also similar to the Hollywood definition of being a man? He pauses for a bit and then says, “I think that a man is somebody who is responsible for his actions and lives his life with integrity, care and respect for others. When something important is asked of him, he follows through. But Hollywood’s version of what a man is, I believe, is just a little superficial.

“In real life, we can go a little deeper than that guy, you know? We can show weakness a little bit more and I think we can be a little bit more vulnerable. Because, I think, Hollywood’s version of a man’s man can become a bit too serious for its own good. If men can poke a little bit more fun at themselves, and listen a little bit more to the women around them, I think the world would be a little better place.”

So Gabriel Macht is also a ladies’ man, but in all the right ways. I prod him to elaborate on the last line and he chuckles, “Well, I think what makes a man complete, and happy, if he’s in a relationship and if he’s married… is a happy wife. I think when you get down to it, if your partner is happy and fulfilled, I think that’s all that matters.

“You know, when I married my wife, that’s when I fully became a man,” he continues. “When I owned my first property with her, and everything that goes into owning a home, and keeping it in a livable condition (chuckles), and of course, the next stage, when I had my daughter; those are all tests for life. And I think if you seal it in those tests by being there for your family, it’s the most important thing. We can all go to work, and of course, we have to make a living, but at the end of the day, I am living for my family.”

Gabriel Macht is a family man. And that’s as far a cry as can be from what Hollywood’s ‘real men’ are, and certainly from what Harvey Spector is. Spector is a man with a single-minded focus: to succeed, whatever be the cost. He doesn’t need a family; he doesn’t even have time for one. Spector’s a lone wolf, who knows what he wants; he’s essentially the grown-up, corporate version of a bad boy, and that’s perhaps what makes the character so appealing. So does Macht think Spector’s a quintessential man?

“I don’t, actually,” Macht says. “I think Harvey’s got a very solid character and integrity, but I don’t think he’s in touch with his emotions. He’s got a lot of demons inside and (chuckles) some anger management issues, and the way he talks to people under him could be refined. Harvey’s certainly learning to be a man, but he’s got a lot of growth in there, and that’s what makes him interesting. If he was a perfect man, it would be just so boring to watch… because no one’s perfect!”

“But I don’t buy Harvey’s idea of success. I do think there’s something to finding success and feeling worthwhile, but, you know, I don’t think it really matters what everyone around you thinks. If you feel like you’re doing good work, if you think you’re making a difference, if you feel like you are coming to work and giving it your best, I think that’s what real success is.”

Gabriel Macht is a successful man, by his definition or by any other. But this success has taken almost 15 years to come, from his first adult role in a 1991 episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. Even with strong performances in credible indie movies and a much-coveted lead role in Frank Miller’s directorial debut, The Spirit, opposite Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson, in 2008, it was only until Suits happened in 2011 that Macht’s charisma as well as acting chops gained worldwide recognition. For an actor who dabbled in movies for so long, did television ever feel like a step down?

“To be honest,” Macht says, “I made the leap to television because I wasn’t finding the roles to sustain myself in films. I I wasn’t getting the ones that guys I really looked up to, like Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and Leo (DiCaprio) were getting. And the movies I had made were not 100 million dollar movies, and so I thought, ‘You know what? Is it really about a successful film or is it really about just finding a character or finding a story that you can tell?’ And so, when Suits came along, I was like, ‘You know what? I just want to work now.’ And there was something about Harvey Spector as a character, that I thought would be fun to play.

“And I think Suits works on so many levels. It’s cinematic, there’s a ton of wit, all the characters really care about what they are upto, and most importantly, women have a really, really strong voice on the show. A bunch of the guys are huffing and puffing on the show (chuckles), but it’s the women of the show that are its spine and the backbone. I think that’s really well done. I always believe that things happen for a reason. Suits has become fruitful in so many ways. There are a lot of great things about the show that I see are really touching a nerve with people. And people from all over the world are really enjoying this show, it’s just fantastic.”

Gabriel Macht is indeed a popular man. If you’re in doubt, ask the ladies who follow Suits in India! Unsurprisingly, Macht is aware of this, “You know, when we shoot Suits in Toronto, and we’re on the streets maybe one or two days out of the episode, we’ve got hundreds of people that come out. And they’re predominantly Indian women, I find. I mean, there’s a huge Indian culture that loves the show! You know, please tell Indian women out there that I love them, and also to everyone else who watches the show, that I’m very thankful.”

So Gabriel Macht is, ultimately, a good man. A man who’s seen failure but come back stronger. A man who’s struggled his way to the top but doesn’t take success for granted. A man who loves his craft but who loves his family more – a man who could take up multiple projects in his five months off from the show but ensures that time is only to “fill up the Daddy well: spend time with the wife and daughter, take her to school, and be there for both of them as much as possible”. A man who has his priorities right. And, of course, a man who looks excellent in a suit! A quintessential man’s man? Hollywood’s found its answer right here.

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Note: An edited version of this interview first appeared in Man’s World India in the June, 2014 issue.  The unedited Q ‘n’ A and the audio interview will be put up soon.

Picture courtesy: Comedy Central India. 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.

Interview: Michael C Hall for Open Magazine

Darkly Dreaming Dexter: Michael C Hall, the fascinating serial killer of Dexter, the hit American TV show, talks about dealing with his inner dark passenger, on and off screen

If you are a fan of American television, you are a fan of Dexter, period. The show, about a police blood spatter analyst who leads a secret double-life as a serial killer, has captivated the collective American consciousness since it launched in 2006. One of the highest rated cable shows ever in the US, Dexter has got its lead actor Michael C Hall—who plays Dexter—a Golden Globe award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and multiple Emmy Award nominations for his portrayal of a man who, incapable of human emotion, turns his homicidal urges into meting out justice to other murderers.

In an interview over the phone from Los Angeles, Michael Hall talks about Dexter’s ‘Dark Passenger’ and his own deliberations on life and death: Excerpts:

Q Having earlier done five seasons of Six Feet Under, which dealt with the morbid as well, what was it about Dexter that attracted you?

A Initially, I think it was the challenge of breathing a sense of authentic life into a character who claimed to be without the capacity for authenticity, or life. I think playing a character that wasn’t affable or relatable or attractive enough for viewers to understand or identify with, or even root for, was a challenge that I welcomed as an actor, and was excited about, personally. Because after playing someone like David Fisher (Six Feet Under), who struggled with a sense of self-loathing and… a sense of being a doormat in his relationships, to play Dexter who is, ultimately, a man of action and a very decisive character, was an appealing change of pace.

Q You’re known to be a method actor. So was the preparation for Dexter? Did you practise murdering dolls and stalking people?

A Oh yeah, I did a bit of that! I was living in New York and followed some people around, just to see if I could do it. I, of course, didn’t follow them into their homes (laughs)… but yeah, it just gave me a sense of that lone wolf, [the] solitary place that Dexter spends a lot of time occupying.

Apart from this, there were some books that I read by FBI profilers who dedicated their careers to identifying the characteristics of serial killers. I imagined that Dexter himself would familiarise himself with things like that. I read transcripts of interviews with different serial killers, I sat down with the head of the Blood Splatter Analysis Department of Miami-Dade County and got a sense of what he did. Ultimately, though, I think it was a character that required an imaginative leap, you know, unless you are willing to commit felonies to see what it’s like. But, it’s not really my inclination to want to do that, so I didn’t think that would really serve me in any way.

Q Were you worried about the responsibility that comes with playing a ‘likeable’ serial killer? There have been stories of life imitating art—how do they affect you?

A Yeah. It’s (pauses)… yeah, it’s a very troubling thing to hear that someone used the existence of the show to sort of contextualise some darker impulse that they might have. But I in no way think that the show is an instructional manual or advocating force for serial murders, or anything like that. I think it’s more a meditation on the nature of morality, family, love and the male psyche. The fact that people see it that way or use it to justify murderous impulses is certainly troubling, but at the same time, I believe, in this case specifically, and even generally, that to censor something because of an individual viewer’s association with it is fundamentally wrong.

Q Did it surprise you that people like Dexter so much, given the fact that he is a criminal? Personally, do you at all judge Dexter? Do you look at him as a vigilante, a hero, a sociopath or even just a little crazy?

A Yeah, I knew going into the show that Dexter was only going to work if people managed to like and identify with the character, and that was sort of the fundamental tonal and performance-wise challenge that we were facing. I thought it would appeal to a certain taste and to a certain viewer. As far as the number of people it’s appealed to, or the different kinds of people who found something to like, it wasn’t something I necessarily anticipated, so it was a pleasant surprise. But no, I do not think that it’s my job or my inclination to judge the characters I play. It’s not something that I really struggle against doing, something I’m not really inclined to do. I’m more inclined to just understand what’s motivating them and act in accordance to that.

Q Does playing Dexter ever get to you? How do you offset the ‘Dark Passenger’ after the show ends? Do you have a routine like watching mindless comedies to get over it?

A Mindless comedies are nice, exercise is good, hot showers are great, vacations and travelling is always nice. So, just getting some distance from the day-to-day constant preoccupation with the character does the trick for the most part. Because, yes, the show does get to you, to a degree… probably, in subtle ways that affect [not] just my mood. Simulating someone who feeds on impulses that dark, and manages a level of stress… takes its toll on the subconscious. But I guess that kind of goes with the territory if you are an actor.

Q What have you learnt about life and death in the past decade, given that both Six Feet Under and Dexter have had these as their central themes?

A I don’t really know how much there is to learn about death, except that it’s inevitable. But as far as life goes, both Dexter and Six Feet Under have been very significant and enriching parts of my life, and I’m thankful for that… it’s definitely cultivated in me a sense of gratitude—gratitude to be working with talented people, gratitude to be working in general, and telling a story that I feel strongly about, probably the biggest thing.

Q You also underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma—successfully—during Dexter. Did that, in any way, change the way you play Dexter?

A Well, you know, when something like that (Hodgin’s lymphoma) happens, you wonder, ‘Did I will this to happen in spite of myself?’ or ‘Am I behaving in ways or treating myself in ways, whether in my habits or in my mind, that contributed to this happening?’ And I was encouraged by most people to believe that wasn’t the case, but maybe it helped me do a better job of putting my work down when I was done with it (chuckles).

Q As a producer on the show, you must be involved in the writing of the show. Do you see Dexter having a happy ending?

A Yeah, I’m a part of that conversation (writing), but I appreciate the fact that if a television series is successful, it’s a miracle of sorts, in as much as it requires so many people to do their jobs well. So I trust our writers and the process that they go through to come up with what happens and I don’t aspire to write the show. I think I ought to weigh in, in terms of how things happen, if there’s a story development that I feel has been executed in a way that doesn’t honour my sense of Dexter’s identity, I might talk about different ways to get there. But, thankfully, we have [such] amazing writers that I can primarily focus on doing my job as an actor.

And as far as the ending is concerned, I do fantasise about a happy ending on Dexter’s behalf, you know, because it’s something that he perhaps deserves, though I honestly don’t know if that’s the way it’s going to pan out.

Q Will we ever see Dexter as a movie?

You know there’s been talk about that possibility, but I struggle to see it being worthwhile. I mean, if somebody can put something in front of me that was compelling, I would be excited, sure, but I have trouble imagining it.

Q Have you ever used Dexter to your advantage… scared someone off in real life?

A Yeah, if anybody cuts me off in traffic, I just give them a little glare and they usually back down. (Chuckles) No, I try not to use that, I try to be responsible.

Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on January 26, 2013
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.

Interview: Aasif Mandvi for Open Magazine

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World: Aasif Mandvi, ‘Brown Correspondent’ of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that airs in America, on satire, pop culture and bigotry

Aasif Mandvi is everywhere. He’s on your television screens as The Muslim Correspondent or The Brown Correspondent on one of the most watched political comedy shows in America, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In 2012 alone, he was in four movies—Premium Rush, Ruby Sparks, The Dictator and Dark Horse. He is now back to his first love, theatre, starring in a brave new play on racism in America, post 9/11, called Disgraced. And although he’s been around for 20 years now, having worked with the likes of Robert De Niro (Analyse This), Bruce Willis (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and in blockbusters like Spiderman 2, it looks like he’s just getting started. Named as one of the most influential global Indians by GQ magazines, Mandvi gets serious about comedy in an exclusive interview:

Q Since you started working on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, you’ve been widely acclaimed by the American press as a representative of the ‘moderate Muslim voice’. Do you think of it as a responsibility now?

A (Thinks) Let me answer the question in this way: having been raised as a Muslim in America, after 9/11, in some way, I was politicised, because you couldn’t help being politicised at the time. Then I got The Daily Show, which is a huge platform, of course, and because of my role in it and because of my ethnicity, I get talked about on both sides of the fence. On the show, I satirise something that then has its effect out in the world, as it makes some people get up and use it as a way to represent the Muslim community. And this stuff that I satirise isn’t entirely created by me; there is a team of writers that works on it along with me. So even though I understand—and this is important—why I’ve been called that, and I understand the need of a representative, and I also understand why it’s happening to me, I can’t worry about it and I can’t think about it. Because that’ll limit you as an artiste, or a writer, actor or creator… if you worry about it.

Also, (chuckles) I reject the notion of being the face of any kind of ‘moderate Muslim’, because I shouldn’t be the guy representing Islam anywhere at all, you know. I’ve been inside more bars than I’ve been inside mosques.

Q Clearly, the community thinks different. You received the prestigious Freedom of Expression Award from The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2011 for your ‘comedic body of work that has played a significant role in exposing anti-Muslim bigotry in America’.

A The CAIR award is certainly an honour, but it’s also absurd (chuckles), if you know what I mean. I mean, it’s more of a reflection of the lack of moderate Muslim voices in society as a whole that I was given the CAIR award. You know, when I got the CAIR award, a Syrian composer, Malek Jandali, was also given it along with me. And he was given it for composing and performing a song (Watani Ana), which served as a backdrop for the Syrian revolution, at a rally in Washington DC. His parents were beaten up brutally by Assad’s security forces in Syria as retaliation. It’s a very tragic story. So he was getting the CAIR award for all that, and I was getting it; and I do sketches and I do jokes. I don’t want to sound full of it here—I greatly respect the fact that I was given the award and I’m extremely grateful for it—[but] I just think it speaks about the larger vacuum of moderate Muslim voices within society, that they gave me the award.

Q But don’t you think that your satirising the paranoia against Islam on The Daily Show has helped alleviate the ignorance of Islam in America?

A See, I think that in terms of what I do on the show, and because at the end of the day we’re a comedy show, there’s a certain level of catharsis that has been achieved, about the fact that I get up there and I say stuff that lands on people. But the reality is, that as far as America goes on a larger level, only 3 million people are watching The Daily Show every night. Compare that to the 22 million people that watch Fox News, for example. So has the conversation about Islam changed? No, not really. Because, for being a highly acclaimed, highly received and highly critically placed show, The Daily Show has a very specific impact on a particular section of society, but there’s a whole slew of people in America who never watch it.

See, when 9/11 happened, there was a definite conversation about what is Islam, who are Muslims, and what is the Quran? But in the 12 years since then, Americans have taken this curiosity and politicised it. The mainstream media and politicians have turned this curiosity into fear. So now, unfortunately, most Americans think that they know the answers. That they understand Islam. And the answer is that you have to be afraid. That Islam is dangerous. That it means ‘jihad’. And unfortunately, as we go into the future, this politicisation and sensationalising of the entire relationship of America with the Muslim world will only take us back a few steps instead of forward. I mean, when Obama came to power and they started calling him a Muslim, it was supposed to be a demeaning thing and was supposed to undermine him; that if he were a Muslim, it would somehow be bad. And that’s the unfortunate trajectory the American consciousness has taken after 9/11, and it’s a tragedy.

Q What do you think the role of pop culture should be in changing this?

A Now here’s where I reverse the same argument: 3 million is still a relatively large audience that The Daily Show reaches. And satire, by nature, helps get a certain level of influence within the zeitgeist and collective consciousness. So I think if pop culture keeps at it, there is an actual effect of change [that] shows like The Daily Show can have by [getting] people to think in ways they haven’t thought before otherwise, and to [experience] catharsis.

But on the other hand, it can all only change to a certain extent. For example, we once covered a protest against the proposed construction of a mosque in Tennessee, two-three years ago. I interviewed the leader of the opposition, Laurie Cardoza-Moore, and her reasons for trying to close down the construction was that… it was a mosque. So while that segment generated a lot of conversation, ultimately it didn’t matter and the construction was shut down. So again, the conversation has gone from a dialogue to basically shutting down and burying the conversation altogether. But, you know, even if there are times we lose, we are also on the winning side a few times, so we’ll certainly keep at that.

Q You’re now doing a serious off-Broadway play about racism and cultural identity in America called Disgraced. Is that also an attempt at keeping the conversation alive?

A Yes, doing the play was a no-brainer for me. It is brilliantly written by a Pakistani-American, Ayad Akhtar. Apart from the fact that there’s probably never been a serious role or play like an Othello on the New York stage for South Asian American actors, especially Muslim actors, I really thought it was the best thing written about this conversation in a long time. It’s honest, brutal, brave and very provocative. In theatre, people sit in a dark room with the actors on stage and are forced to wrestle with their own personal demons and prejudices, so it’s a very different beast than a political comedy at 11 o’ clock at night on Comedy Central. People have come out of Disgraced crying or in deep conversation or deep thought, you know.

I come from a much more liberal and secular Muslim family than the protagonist of the play, Amir Kapoor, who comes from a very conservative and traditional family with much more dogmatic opinions and a dangerous perspective of things. But I could still relate to him in many ways, specially to the disassociation from the culture and the clash of East and West values. I understand the difficulty in trying to find your identity and in growing up as a South Asian in America, especially post 9/11. And so I thought it was important for me to be a part of such a play, and I hope it is making people uncomfortable.

Q A while ago, in an article on, you wrote, tongue-in-cheek, about the ‘whitewashing’ phenomenon in Hollywood, where America thinks of South Asian actors as White actors in Brown makeup. Now that we seem to be breaking out of the stereotypes of a cab driver, infotech engineer or a deli owner, do you think this is changing?

A Well, I think while the conversations on Islam may not be improving, South Asians, in general, are becoming a part of the American conscience now. Although I don’t think we have broken out of stereotypes entirely, I just think that as time has gone by, the new generation of South Asian comedians, writers and actors are a part of the American existence. Be it Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn or Mindy Kaling, there are certainly a lot more South Asians on TV and in movies than there used to be since I started in the business back in 1991. So yes, America is changing to that extent. But does that mean that Hollywood is comfortable casting South Asian actors without accents? No, it’s not. I just did an Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn movie called The Internship, where my character has an Indian accent.

But it’s a very different kind of thing at play here, because there are people with accents. There’s nothing wrong with playing a cab driver or a deli owner or even a terrorist, because those people exist and are real. It basically comes down to the writing. Are these written as one-dimensional jokes for White people, or are they written with some level of nuance, sophistication, thought and an arc or story of some kind? And that’s what’s really changing for South Asian actors, you know. The writing and the roles are getting better, not that the characters now don’t have accents.

Q Apart from movies, you are also writing a book about your experiences in the US.

A Yeah, it’s been in the works for some time now. It’s a series of essays and short stories about my life growing up in England and working in America. It’s semi-autobiographical with anecdotal stories along the way, which are funny and amusing and relevant in some way, but some that are also serious. Then there are a few movies lined up, and there’s Disgraced and there’s The Daily Show. At some point in the future, I may be creating a TV show for CBS. I actually don’t know exactly where I am going from here, but I would like to continue writing, acting, and creating more stuff and putting it out there, and hoping it lands on people in a way that makes them feel. But I don’t have a larger agenda or a political one, and the only reason it’s working or has worked in the past is that (chuckles) I never had a plan B either.

Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on January 5, 2013
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).

Interview: Hannah Simone for Open Magazine

She could have fell, fell out of the sky;/She could have fell right out of the sky./Who’s that girl? (Who’s that girl?)/Who’s that girl? (Who’s that girl?)’

The answer to these lines, from Hey Girl, the catchy theme song of the Golden Globe- and Emmy Award-nominated American TV sitcom New Girl is, “It’s Jess.” Zooey Deschanel, who plays ‘Jess’, the show’s lead actress, doubles up as singer-composer of the song, and sings this answer herself.

But for many fans of the show, for the local American media fraternity, for the international desi Indian community, for hot-blooded males forever on the lookout for their next pinup girl, for young hip females eternally in search of their next style icon, and for the ever-curious social media enthusiasts at large, the refrain could very well refer to the other ‘new girl’ on the show—the stunning, funny and gifted young actress of Indian origin, Hannah Simone, who has come right out of nowhere. And if reactions on the internet are anything to go by, she has been stealing hearts of audiences and critics alike.

It is a testament to Hannah’s talent that within a year of moving to Los Angeles to follow her dreams on a much larger platform than her earlier country of residence, Canada, could provide, she secured a hosting gig on a reality show WCG Ultimate Gamer on the cable channel Syfy. Immediately after, she won a parallel lead role on Fox’s New Girl, as Cecilia ‘Cece’ Meyers, Jess’ childhood best friend and an upcoming model. The show is only in its second season, but Hannah has already landed herself a part in The Usual Supects and X-Men director Bryan Singer’s digital series, H+, and a role in Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 South Korean film Oldboy.

“My life right now is probably the best example of a dream come true,” says Hannah with a slight, throaty laugh over the phone from Los Angeles, where she now lives. “When I was in school in India and was doing these little theatre productions on stage, if you told me that this is what I was going to be doing a few years later in my life, there’s no chance I would have believed you.”

Simone graduated with a BA in international relations and political science and then worked for the United Nations, in its human rights and refugees office. She has also worked as a researcher for a Canadian statesman and as a social news VJ for MuchMusic, a Canadian TV channel, for which she interviewed world leaders and discussed issues like AIDS, climate change and bullying. With a résumé like that, she could not have seen this coming.

At the same time, having first started modelling at the age of 13 in Cyprus and then earning a degree in Radio and Television Arts in Canada before moving on to theatre, VJing and acting, in a way, Hannah also had a career in the glamour world laid out.

“I’ve been really blessed to have a mother and father who would tell me that it’s fine to have several passions in life all at once, and that none of them has to fit in the same box,” says Hannah. “Because that’s essentially how life is—we are who we are, it’s other people who try to put us in a box. So growing up in countries like Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and India, I kept my eyes open to the human rights issues around me, especially women and children’s rights, and have been very involved in making people aware of the same. At the same time, I love theatre, I love ‘improv’ and I love making people laugh, and I need both these parts in my life at all times.”

Over the course of the conversation, it is evident that Hannah’s intelligence runs beyond her résumé, and it is not merely chance that in an industry that’s quick to pigeonhole Indians into exotic and accented call centre employees and models into catty and ‘hot’ bimbos, in New Girl, Hannah plays the character of a hot Indian model who defies all these stereotypes and is completely her own person—a funny, confident and loyal friend who makes decisions both good and bad.

The former VJ attributes such a role to both a sign of changing norms in Hollywood as well as her responsibility as an Indian artiste to make the right choices. “That’s one of the things that attracted me to my character of ‘Cece’ in New Girl,” she says, “The showrunners were only looking for someone funny for the role, and not someone ethnically specific, and that gave me the freedom to play the character the way I wanted to play it.”

And that is the reason, Hannah goes on to explain, that the only time the topic of Cece’s ethnicity comes up is when Schmidt, played by Max Greenfield, needs to flatter her and rolls out his knowledge of all things Indian, from Slumdog Millionaire to Deepak Chopra. “And that’s the right way to do it,” says Hannah. “Those lines are written because they cast someone Indian and not because they wrote an Indian stereotype and cast someone who fits the mould. I find that very refreshing—to be on a mainstream network comedy and not have to play into any ethnic stereotypes.”

“I also think it’s really important, for us as Indian actors, that we choose roles and play characters that are not defined by their ethnicity,” she continues. “I believe that’s precisely how we will slowly start to open up that door of being seen just as a girl or guy instead of being seen as an Indian girl or guy.”

But Hannah isn’t opposed to playing characteristically Indian roles either. In fact, on Bryan Singer’s digital series H+, she plays Leena Param, a young Indian girl who has grown up in the Mumbai slums, dreams of going to Bollywood and even has a ‘filmi’ dance sequence on the show. And in this case, it was the challenge of playing the stereotype responsibly that got her interested.

“I find that a lot of times people want to play these… Indian characters as victims,” she says. “But I didn’t want to keep perpetuating the idea that you are a victim just because you are poor. So I approached Leena as an empowered, ambitious woman who was choosing to become a surrogate in the story because she saw that as a means to taking a step up and a step forward in her life, and not because it was some kind of sentence. I was very protective of the character because being an Indian woman, living in and going to school in India, and always being surrounded by so many strong Indian women, you tend to become strong yourself.”

This strength of character is something Hannah sees in herself too, she laughs, and is among the things she believes she has inherited from the Indian side of her heritage—her father, Narendra Simone, who is originally from Mathura and is now a prolific author with over seven books to his credit. Her mother is of German-Italian-Cypriot-Greek descent.

“My father’s such an amazing inspiration to me,” she enthuses, “My proudest Hollywood moment was when I took him as my date to the Golden Globes, where New Girl was nominated, and I shared that huge moment of success with him. My father’s always been the greatest storyteller for me and has taught me how to use my imagination, which has been the basis of what I’ve learnt about acting. That, and the fact that Indians as a people take such good care of each other and [their] families, has been the core of who I am as an Indian.”

“And of course,” she adds with her distinctive happy laugh, “food, food, food, food, food! I’ve inherited my love for great Indian food too.”

Like every other Indian, she also loves “classic Bollywood films” but Hannah’s unique sensibilities are resonant in her choice of favourite Indian films too. The self-confessed Madhur Jaffrey, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair fan is more an admirer of movies like Monsoon Wedding, Fire and Earth than of mainstream commercial ‘Bollywood’ cinema.“It’s so inspiring that Indian directors went back to their homeland to make great independent films that dealt with issues that are usually difficult to talk about,” she explains.

Ask her if she’d like to follow in their footsteps, and she chuckles, “I have no idea. Cece and I are in the same boat in that sense, because we both don’t know what’s coming up next. And that’s what I love about life, you know? My love for the performance arts and for social work will continue forever, but beyond that, I’m just excited to roll with it and live in the moment.”

And at the moment, it is a great time to be Hannah. The new Indian girl on the block gets calls for Indian projects because she is of Indian origin, and at the same time, gets noticed by the likes of Spike Lee for roles in mainstream American projects because she is TV’s latest breakout star. “I’ve strived to be ethnically ambiguous throughout my career. My ethnicity is now an advantage and I have the great fortune of playing anything,” she smiles. “It’s really the best of both worlds.”

Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on November 17, 2012
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).