A Call Center Joke? How Original.

Anil Kapoor has become one of the most famous Bollywood stars in America. After the success of Slumdog Millionaire. The actor bagged a gig in the hit Fox series 24.

Recently, he was interviewed by Good Day LA’s Steve Edwards. While Kapoor enthusiastically explained the dwindling gap between the poor and the middle class in India, Edwards responded by saying, “How come every time I call tech support I seem to get you on the phone?”

Here is the video of the interview:

 

The interview was difficult to watch. Sadly, ignorant comments like Edwards have become quite common. In a blog post for The Boston Globe, I wrote about then Senator Joe Biden’s racist remark to an Indian American.

South Asian Americans are now regulars in prime time programing (all four shows in NBC’s two hour comedy line-up has an Indian American in a significant role), in Hollywood films, and even as heads of corporations like Pepsi and Citigroup.

Even Bollywood has built its presence in the US over the last few years. When My Name is Khanwas released earlier this year, the stars and director of the film had interviews with CNN, NPR, and other leading media outlets. The stars, Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, even rang the opening bell for NASDAQ.

It’s not surprising that Edwards was the one who rudely interrupted Kapoor and made the absurd comment. On his show The Soup, Joel McHale often mocks Edwards for his less than appropriate comments. He had an amusing response to Edwards’ remarks to Kapoor.

In an interview, Shahrukh Khan had stated that Bollywood actors will be known in the US “in the next five or six years, very easily.” Here’s hoping that incidents like this don’t repeat themselves.

A Small Leap for Television…

There is a glimmer of hope amidst the dramatic daily soaps and mind numbing reality programming in Indian television. Yes, reality programming, including the ridiculous copies of American favorites (examples) and singing competitions have taken the majority of prime-time programming and ratings, similar to the trends in the US. Daily soaps are still prime time and will continue to be so in the years to come. But Sony Entertainment Television, one of the standard and most popular channels in the country, is trying something new.

The channel, which is home to Indian Idol and the Indian version of Dancing with the Stars, has gotten rid of most of its daily soaps. It has also launched two new shows, Mahi Way and Rishta.com. The shows are one hour long and only air- wait for it- once a week! It’s a complete departure from the daily soaps (which are similar to telenovelas).

These two shows are funny, witty, and can be slightly uncomfortable for me to watch with my parents- a rare occurrence when watching Indian television. It’s different from previous risky programming, such as serials made by Ajai Sinha. Sinha’s ventures were always scandalous, ripe with sexual innuendos and extra-marital affairs. SET’s newest ventures have characters that drink wine, go clubbing, date, and wear western clothing. Pretty standard stuff for Delhi and Mumbai adults, but also a reality that is avoided in soap operas and serials that have dominated television.

Mahi Way is a show about a  lovable and bubbly Agony Aunt columnist who happens to be overweight. Her best friend is gay and she is also friends with a gay couple who live together (progress!). She is career oriented, drinks wine, dates, yet still has family values, lives with her family, and is under a lot of pressure to get married.

This is complete departure from Balaji Entertainment, which replaced some great television in the 90’s with stories that were always the same at the core. The central characters (always women) were from middle class backgrounds and marry into a rich family. The antagonists were always women who wore a lot of make up and jewelry and were not religious. The men were usually flawed and rarely central characters. Of course there were variances and some shows that tried to break the mold, but were usually cancelled or ended up following the same mold. During the last 15 years, these soaps dominated. In fact, it was said they even helped women gain confidence in their own households. Then reality programming broke in and stole some of their thunder.

The two new shows don’t fit these molds, and it’s incredibly refreshing. Rishta.com is about two friends who start a matrimonial business together. One of my favorite episodes was about a guy who was dragged to the company by his parents who were desperate to get their son married. Turns out, he’s gay. But what’s so great about his charecter was that he wasn’t stereotypically gay, meaning he wasn’t extra feminine or wearing really tight shiney clothes, as is usually how gay men are portrayed in most Indian pop culture.

Both shows have an unlikely source– Yash Raj Films. It was about time the production company that once dominated formulaic film making is in the business of making innovative television. It is annoying that they shamelessly promote their music and films, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The shows are really funny and entertaining, but still have a women target demographic. They’re the equivalent of Gilmore Girls or Ugly Betty, but in the midst of daily soaps and reality television, the change is very welcome.

CORRECTION:  Yash Raj Films have launched five new shows on SET. The other three are Lift Kara de (Talk/reality show with director Karan Johar), Seven (similiar to Heroes) and Powder, a dramatic series that I will review in a future post.