SuperModi

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Since Abhi my colleagues at Sepia Mutiny have apparently stopped doing their earlier hourly updates on what Kal Penn is up to, I feel it is incumbent upon me to remind readers that second-gen actor Kal Penn plays one of Lex Luthor’s henchmen in the new film Superman Returns (aka, the “American version of Krrish“). Reviews have been pretty positive, though there are still some signs that the film may be a load of “Kraptonite” (or, in a nod to Manish, Krraptonite!), but how can that stop me from loyally supporting the ABCDeNiro?

And no, he doesn’t play a vaguely middle-eastern terrorist type. Nor does he speak in a bad Indian accent. In fact, in the final cut of the film, I gather, Kal Penn doesn’t have any speaking lines at all. Also, his character is named “Stanford.” Ah well: if they don’t have you playing the demonic terrorist, they’ll have you whipped as the “model minority.” Sigh.

At least he’s on the right side. From the trailers, this version of Superman seems like one of those movies with a hero so annoyingly earnest you end up rooting for the bad guys to win. Of course, with bad guys as charismatic as Kevin Spacey (or indeed, Kal Penn), that comes pretty easily. Can you think of other examples in this genre? Bad guys so diabolical and cool that you’re practically depressed when they’re finally vanquished at the end?

145 thoughts on “SuperModi

  1. I was surprised to see “Jism” at my local Blockbuster (I live in Jackson Hts.). I watched it and I could not believe how horrid it was…

    Just think how bad it must have sucked for all the non-desis who snatched it off the shelf thinking, “Hot damn! Indian porn! At Blockbuster even!!”

  2. “Jism” actually means something else here in Ingerlaanda. Or so I’m told anyway. I don’t know much about these things, being the shy sheltered type as you all know.

  3. I don’t know much about these things, being the shy sheltered type as you all know.

    I choked on my mint when I read this…if something happens to me because of your badmash lies…I’m sending you the bill! ;)

  4. I saw Superman at a super-sneak preview on Tuesday night at the Mann Village near UCLA.

    Unfortunaterly Kal doesn’t get to deliver any lines even close to the deliciousness of “just because youÂ’re hung like a moose doesnÂ’t mean youÂ’ve got to do porn”. That line in Harold & Kumar perfectly captured the ultra-smart slacker Indian attitude in the US. Too bad that there aren’t too many like that character out there…

    Back to Superman. Kal Penn’s name got polite applause in the theatre. I think he had a few lines. Mostly like: “yes boss.”

    As for the film, it is a mish-mash. Where it works, it is absolutely spectacular. It is summer-blockbuster material of the first order: brilliant effects, drama and the super powers. Where it fails, it is sad.

    Superman isn’t nearly as good as Batman Returns or the two Spiderman films. But it is worth the $10 bucks. (And you get a bonus Spiderman 3 trailer in the fornt of it.)

  5. I think they were more like “anti-heroes”, rather than outright villains (I guess the same applies to my previous suggestion of Amitabh in Deewar & Don, along with Gordon Gekko). Otherwise we may as well start including Amitabh as Vijay Dinananth Chauhan in Agneepath, both Bachchans in Sarkar, and so on (plus some of Shahrukh Khan’s earlier films).

    Some others as anti heroes

    Aamir in Earth-1947, he played Ice-Candy man brilliantly.

    And the character Siddharth Tyabji played by Kay Kay Menon from Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi.

    Selfish and unapologetic

  6. Msichana,

    I choked on my mint when I read this…if something happens to me because of your badmash lies…I’m sending you the bill! ;)

    I was going to make a joke about the dubious connection between, er, “jism” in the English slang sense of the term and, er, choking on something, but decided against it as we can’t have you coughing and spluttering too much in public and thereby drawing attention to our on-line undercover Mutiny.

    Glad I made you laugh anyway. Never let it be said that I do not give a lot of pleasure to a lot of women I don’t know very well.

  7. Early Nana Patekar was creepy good! Also the guy who potrayed Vardarajan Mudaliar in SARAANSH.

  8. I was going to make a joke about the dubious connection between, er, “jism” in the English slang sense of the term and, er, choking on something, but decided against it

    Beshaaram! (throws shoe at Jai)

  9. “Superman isn’t nearly as good as Batman Returns or the two Spiderman films. But it is worth the $10 bucks. (And you get a bonus Spiderman 3 trailer in the fornt of it.)”

    I think you mean Batman Begins. please oh please tell me you mean batman begins.

  10. “It’s an adequate response to something so obviously inappropriate. We’ve discussed why we disapprove of that offensive, useless term for months, most recently via that post I linked to, from Amardeep. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

    Somehow, I don’t think “Taj Mahal Badlandabad” really qualifies as a legitamite “desi voice” So thank you for the link, but I seriously doubt its applicability, no one’s asking you to reinvent the wheel, but filling it up with air when it deflates could prove useful.

  11. thank you for the link, but I seriously doubt its applicability

    It seems obvious that you haven’t read the link as it specifically applies to your thread. So far you’ve given no reason why you feel KP is selling out..

  12. plus some of Shahrukh Khan’s earlier films

    Baazigar, Darr, and Anjam were some badass roles. Those movies really put him in the spotlight. I actually thought the dude was cool in his earlier TV shows, too, like Fauji and Circus.

  13. HeroManyFaces #109:

    Yeah — I meant “Batman Begins”. Thanks for catching that. Chris Nolan (director of Batman Begins) is a genius. Batman Begins is my favorite superhero film. Ever.

    For this summer, I am eagerly anticipating the inevitable disappointment that will be Clerks II and the sublime pleasure of Borat the movie.

    As for desi filmi types, I’ll begrudgingly pay the tenner for M.Night’s Lady in the Water. Although after the boredom of the Village, I’m not sure why…

    Cheers.

  14. I never said KP sold out completely, in fact I’ve said he’s doing a good job of balancing it. Its pretty unfortunate that some people got caught up in the actual term ‘uncle tom’ and completely bypassed the fact that I was complementing KP, sort of.

    Anyway the thread has to do with writers make commentaries about each others writing. Which is completely, utterly, unequivocably inapplicable here. The thread concluded that

    “people, can we just flat-out stop using “brown sahib”/”uncle tom” as a kind of in-house racial slur? Can we actually accept diversity of opinion within the South Asian/ diasporic intellectual world?”

    and like I said before, Taj Mahal Badalandabad or whatever, hardly qualifies as a “diverse opinion” indicative of any “south asian diaspora intellect.”

    But I do know that bills need to be paid, and Hollywood having the type of history it does, will only accept minority characters in mainstream consumable roles – so I don’t hold him at fault.

  15. Like any actor in Hollywood, KP has to hustle to get jobs. His agents and managers have to put him out there for every possible role in hopes of landing a paycheck.

    Also, like any other industry, Hollywood is first and foremost about profits. And unlike what the people would have you believe, Hollywood does NOT set the cultural tone for the country. Hollywood FOLLOWS it.

    Movie executives are notoriously risk-averse. Forget about the merits of KP’s roles. Think about the challenge that blacks and latinos (as much larger minority groups) have. A recent survey of top level executives at the major studios found that more tha 95% of the jobs were held by white men. Followed by a few women. A handful of blacks. And zero latinos. There are hundres of 20-something up and coming white actors and actresses regularly mentioned in the gossip rags. How many can you name that are Black or Latino? Bet you can’t name more than 5.

    As a result of the risk-aversion, you will never ever see a non-white-male superhero. (Female superhero films fail: Elektra, Catwoman, etc.) Blade, with Wesley Snipes, was an anti-hero. You will never see a summer-blockbuster that challenges the current generally accepted cultural mores. You will never see a challenge to the American way of life. You will never see the glorification of other cultures.

    Of course smaller films get made by smaller organizations that attempt to do all these and more. But even these films have to face the make-or-break first weekend audience. As a result, a lot of self-censorship happens in this town.

    Going back to KP. It is brilliant that the kid is getting roles. Unfortunately, he doesn’t reflect any large built-in audience.

  16. Not to break anyone’s bubble here — but Hollywood is an incredibly shallow intellectual pool. Stereotypes about races, ages, even foreheads and teeth abound. For most films, the opening weekend is the high-water mark of revenue. As films cost more and more, the financial risk is managed by reducing market risk as much possible.

    Many movie and TV executives are blindingly narrow-minded about race. Leads are white. Best friends are black. Asian women are hot and bitchy. All women have gay male friends. Other minorities do not exist. And given the massive financial gulf between white and latinos in Los Angeles, entertainment execs do not cast Latinos for anything easily.

    For a very long time, black actors could not get past roles as thugs, slaves or henchmen. Robert Townsend did a brilliant (independent) film about the struggles of black actors called Hollywood Shuffle.

    Even today, the ratio of ‘good’ roles for blacks and latinos vs. similar roles for whites doesn’t come close to matching the ratio of minorities to whites in the general population.

    So what is a minority actor to do? As racially charged as the term Uncle Tom is, minority actors wanting to earn a paycheck have to play along to get along. And that still often means portraying caricatures of their races on screen.

  17. Jesus Christ folks.

    This was a National Lampoon movie where everything, everyone, and every group gets made fun of in some way or the other. It’s not something to get all wound up about. Some of you may not appreciate the context of this film, or any National Lampoon movie for that matter, but this really isn’t THAT big of a deal. A character like Taj in some serious flick would be disturbing, but not in Van Wilder.

    Hell, more than once Taj was a conversation among my non subcontinental friends and if anything, it led to discussions about [India] and them learning a few things at the end of whatever light hearted discussion that all were engaged in. All I’ve come across find the character endearing, memorable, and funny and don’t usually expect me or any other desi to act that way.

    Now, back to bad guys who rule.

    • Max Von Sydow as Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon
    • James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian
  18. with that said, perhaps can we use the term “caricature”? It seems “uncle tom” has some really offensive connotations, whether you intend to include them or not in using the term doesn’t matter– it’s offended more than a few people, can we please have the manners to be a little kinder in the verbiage choice?

  19. Speaking of “built-in audiences” – how is MTV Desi, doing, by the way? We are a strong force here thanks to our disproportionate economic might, but is our US population in high enough numbers to justify massive media coverage and equal footing yet?

    I am just asking the question, I do not know the stats.

    I guess I am just “happy”, here in Michigan at least, that when some ignorant fool wants to insult me they call me a damn Indian now, vs. a damn Ay-rab or Abdul, or some such thing, as it was when growing up. Progress kids! :-)

    PS – Desi Dancer. Just saw your site – great work and spirit! Also, if that is you on the profile, I am truly not worthy. What a beautiful woman! Are you single? ;-) )

  20. GujuDude:

    Actually, you don’t quite get the point. Taj Mahal Badalandabad’s character is consistent with many of the roles available for minorities. Clearly, the film is a farce (a bad one at that) where everyone is a target for humiliation.

    Your race defines the range of characters available to you. You don’t get to pick the role. Casting agents pick you.

    Minorities in complex, rich and full roles would require a discussion of racism in America. And racism is a taboo subject if you want to sell tickets. So what kind of roles do minorities get? They get roles that movies executives believe are the most innocuous. They fill their films with commonly accepted, non-offensive stereotypes.

    KP will never get a role as a leading man in a major hollywood picture. He will never get a role where his Indian-ness is seriously explored. He will mostly get offered roles where he places either A model minority or a hilarious and wacky immigrant. (Both are considered non-offensive in this town.)

  21. Harold and Kumar was a major studio realeased pic. And KP was the star. Yes, it was based on his ethnicity, but he was steadfastly kept the protagonist and was never denigrated.

    “kumar, you did that well on the MCAT? What’s your deal?” “Hey man, just because you are hung like a horse, doesn’t mean you have to do porn.”

    It’s a start. He ain’t going to be replacing Brad Pitt in this country anytime soon. We have Bollywood with a much bigger audience, let’s keep it in balance.

  22. The challenge for minority actors in Hollywood is getting meaningful rules that don’t perpetuate stereotypes (if they can find work at all).

    The reason this discussion is relevant is that these roles reflect the broader culture. The Hollywood Marketing machine, as a proxy for the culture at large, has decided that minorites, by and large should only be cast as either model perfect or hilarious and wacky.

    KP’s role in Harold & Kumar was unusual in that the character subverted both the perfection and wackiness of minorities. As such, it is unlikely to be repeated. BTW, with a $9M budget and about $19M box office, this was a minor picture.

    By and large, Indians in the US have fit squarely into the model minority: they earn above average incomes, win spelling bees and have been (up til recently) politically ambivalent.

    Until the interaction of the Indian community with the majority culture expands and causes cultural conflict, the roles for Indian characters will continue to be in the model/wacky vein.

  23. Funny sidebar on KP. A mutual friend recently shared that KP is vegetarian. Clearly that presented a challenge in filming the burger-gobbling scenes in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle! Special veggie burgers were made for him.

  24. Early Nana Patekar was creepy good!

    Good point. He was excellent in Parinda.

    Beshaaram! (throws shoe at Jai)

    Jai catches DD’s shoe and adds it to the huge collection of shoes she’s thrown at him previously

    Apu_is_innocent,

    PS – Desi Dancer. Just saw your site – great work and spirit! Also, if that is you on the profile, I am truly not worthy. What a beautiful woman! Are you single? ;-) )

    DD is very very very married ;)

  25. “with that said, perhaps can we use the term “caricature”? It seems “uncle tom” has some really offensive connotations, whether you intend to include them or not in using the term doesn’t matter– it’s offended more than a few people, can we please have the manners to be a little kinder in the verbiage choice?”

    When term is applicable it should be used. It’s not volatile like “the N-word” In my view, the only people who’d be offended by it, are those that are accused of doing it. I’ve met many a south asian actor in LA, including KP. While they may not use the term, they all admit it must be done to some extent.

  26. When term is applicable it should be used. It’s not volatile like “the N-word” In my view, the only people who’d be offended by it, are those that are accused of doing it. I’ve met many a south asian actor in LA, including KP. While they may not use the term, they all admit it must be done to some extent.

    I seriously don’t understand why you insist on using this word, and attempting to convince everyone else on the thread that it’s ok because someone you know maybe doesn’t have a problem with it. The N-Word is not ok. The term you are so adamantly defending is not ok. Maybe it’s because I was born here and am aadhi but the term isn’t for South Asians, it has a whole different set of connotations and baggage and ugly, sick history. -Say Coconut if you really must go there, but the term you are so interested in throwing around has very horrible images and actions attached to it.

    side note to Apu_is_innocent: thanks, yaar!

  27. “DD is very very very married ;)

    aw shucks, foiled again! ;-) ) And by Killer Khalsa at that.

    But to the comments on Indians in the US media, I still think we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. I hate cable news, but I see many Indian faces popping on there whenever I am stuck in the airport and forced to catch it (sidenote: I grew up with paging dr. gupta – read his bio, does the guy ever sleep??).

    Like I said in an earlier post, when bigots call you by the ethno-appropriate insult and not “aye-rab” or “n***er”, that’s “progress” in America! ;)

    As to the issue of being portrayed as a model minority, i’ll quote a good friend of mine (who is black): “man I WISH people just assumed I could fix their computer or owned a store, instead of chasing me out of theirs!”

  28. “I seriously don’t understand why you insist on using this word, and attempting to convince everyone else on the thread that it’s ok because someone you know maybe doesn’t have a problem with it. The N-Word is not ok. The term you are so adamantly defending is not ok. Maybe it’s because I was born here and am aadhi but the term isn’t for South Asians, it has a whole different set of connotations and baggage and ugly, sick history. -Say Coconut if you really must go there, but the term you are so interested in throwing around has very horrible images and actions attached to it.”

    At the risk of dragging it out too far, I’ll just say I insist on using because I think its applicable in some cases. And if you’re trying to equate it with the volatility of using the N-word, I think that’s way, WAY off base. As for using coconut or banana or someother fruit to describe it.. well, how many serious commentators out there have gotten anywhere using fruit ?

    1. Let them eat static. Oh, yes, Khan, please have the Enterprise and everyone in it!!!!

    2. Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman, of course.

    3. Dennis Hopper as Frank Hopper in Blue Velvet. “Heineken? F* that s*! Pabst Blue Ribbon …”

    Also, as much as I wanted him to die, die, DIE because of his obvious Nazi-esque wickedness, Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List makes me all weak-kneed. sigh Ralph could have killed everyone in Red Dragon and I would have been A-OK with it. double sigh

  29. I’m gonna side with WhateverMan on the KP slams – the dude is WORKING. As an aspiring desi female writer in the film industry, I can tell you how hard it is for minorities to get seen for scripts or roles, not to mention actually get the job. You think he’s the only one who used a ‘screen name’ when he was starting out, in order to make things more palatable for the guys in suits who give people work? Female writers are notorious for attaching male pseudonyms to their scripts if they happen to be action films (since Hollywood doesn’t think that women can write action flicks as good as men). Not to mention – actors tend to change their names to make something sound more catchy. “Kal Penn” sounds more catchy than “Kalpen Modi”. To the people who were saying that he’s ‘embarassed of his name’, i’d love you to stop whining and set foot in Hollywood as an executive so that females wouldn’t have to change the name on our scripts either! (my point is that it’s much easier for outsiders to criticize than ball-up and come to the plate to really change things).

    Despite how crazy Hollywood is, I give KP some props. He has balanced the roles he’s “had to take” like Van Wilder, with the better roles he obviously wanted to get, like “The Namesake”.

    As far as Superman, word on the street in LA is that he had a pretty pivotal role as “Stanford”, but that they cut his entire subplot in editing, which resulted in most of his dialogue being cut out too. (He mentioned this in some red carpet interviews at the premiere, and on some radio show the day the movie opened, btw). Hopefully we’ll see his scenes on DVD. The dude is also producing a sequel to “Van Wilder”, in which Taj goes from stereotype to leading-guy (it takes place in the UK, so i’m expecting some anti-british slams, rather than the anti-indian ones we saw in the first one). He’s becoming pretty well respected out here with this trailer for the Namesake (http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/thenamesake/trailer/), and he’s supposedly in the next Tarantino movie! Obviously, he’s playing the game and working Uncle Tom jobs in order to do what he really wants. Now if he’d just read one of my friggin scripts, or have my kids, maybe I’d be set…

  30. “Despite how crazy Hollywood is, I give KP some props. He has balanced the roles he’s “had to take” like Van Wilder, with the better roles he obviously wanted to get, like “The Namesake”.”

    Exactly what I said.

  31. When term is applicable it should be used. It’s not volatile like “the N-word” In my view, the only people who’d be offended by it, are those that are accused of doing it.

    I’m offended by it, so just what are you accusing me of doing? I’d love specific examples, thanks.

  32. I’m gonna side with WhateverMan on the KP slams – the dude is WORKING

    I’m also a desi writer trying to get published. Does that mean if I write some model-minority “Being an indian guy is so hard because I can’t talk to girls or get it up” drivel and get published, you will applaud me? By your logic, Gurinder Chadha, Kaavya V., Naipaul and all the other desi people that have perpetuated the stereotypes about us were justified. That’s the whole point; it takes someone with real strength of character to stick to what they believe in and true to themselves instead of selling out. Kal Penn does not represent a step forward to me at all. The only movie in which he made me proud even a little was harold and Kumar, and that’s because as a blunt-smoking college student, I was exactly the demographic it was aimed towards. (And he still was from a stereotypical doctor family, was kind of a pussy, and ended up going to med school. Not that revolutionary). Taj in a cringe-worthy character, half my white friends insisted on calling me Taj after seeing Van Wilder. At least it was a stupid movie in both cases; his next role as Gogol Ganguli involves playing the same type of limp dick brown wuss who gets bitched by all the women in his life, both brown and white. That role is going to be much worse, because everyone I know who sees it is going to assume that all us brown guys are similarly weak willed and ashamed of our heritage. To me, Kal Penn and his anglicized name is just another version of Apu on the Simpsons; reinforcing our negative image as Indian men, not advancing us at all.

  33. Also- Desi Dancer, is that really you?

    Damn girl. Are you really married?

    Not that it matters. Also, I never realized Killer Khalsa was a read guy. That’s hilarious. Was he famous before Bollywood/Hollywood?

  34. I’m offended by it, so just what are you accusing me of doing? I’d love specific examples, thanks.

    I should be accusing you of not reading into the subtlety of my statement. I said:

    In my view, the only people who’d be offended by it, are those that are accused of doing it.

    Passive voice. So I’m not accusing you of anything, but if you are really offended by it, chances are that someone, somewhere, somehow has accused you of uncle tom’ing, coconut’ing, twinkie’ing, oreo’ing, or any other food product you can think of.

  35. Passive voice. So I’m not accusing you of anything, but if you are really offended by it, chances are that someone, somewhere, somehow has accused you of uncle tom’ing, coconut’ing, twinkie’ing, oreo’ing, or any other food product you can think of

    Great response. It’s embarassing, but most Indian people I know, including my sister, despite having the benefit of the same upbringing, are guilty of this, and pretty sensitive when confronted with it. Apparently, we can’t all keep it real all the time.

  36. DarkNight, you are totally right! Let’s blame Kal Penn for the roles written by other people. Let’s put the weight of racial politics on the shoulders of an actor who is just doing what he loves to do! In fact, let’s vilify Indian doctors too, because they’re the REAL stereotype, right?! Without all those damned Indian doctors and cabbies, we wouldn’t have to deal with those stereotypes. And you’re right about “The Namesake”! Screw Jhumpa Lahiri and her Pulitzer-winning face! She makes Indian men seem ashamed! Let’s hope Kal Penn wises up and takes roles that paint Indian men as wife-beaters and strong, misogynistic MEN! Real men! Kal Penn has a responsibility, dammnit! Doesn’t he know that he shouldn’t be allowed to follow his dreams like white actors?! What is he THINKING, actually taking WORK?! It’s shameful.

    No more shame! Candlelight vigil, 7pm.

  37. desiwriter99 – LOL! Frankly, i cannot complain when people assume i am a doctor or can fix their computer. Sure beats being glared at suspiciously by storeowners, as many of my black friends are. Besides, the stereotypes are largely true, and mostly positive, of sorts. I can think of worse fates.

    If you prefer big strong chest-beating Indians, check out the dude in The Longest Yard remake – he’s pretty cool, but hardly typical.

    KP does what he has to do, like an actor of any race, especially the darker ones, of course.

    Also,

    “Taj in (sic) a cringe-worthy character, half my white friends insisted on calling me Taj after seeing Van Wilder.” – DarkKnight

    My dear brother, me thinks you really need some NEW white friends in that case (there’s lots to choose from!). KP is not the problem. :)

  38. Dasichist, I don’t have them online but can have my reps send you one if you’re in the industry as well. let me know…

  39. Um, wow, I can’t read all these comments.

    I’m probably the only Asian left in the US who hasn’t seen Harold & Kumar, so tonight was my first Kal Penn viewing. I’m a die hard Superman Movie fan, so Kal was low on my list of obervations, but I thought he was awesome and I thought his not* speaking was awesome—he was incredibly creepy and expressive. While the other henchmen had more lines, it was obvious that Kal was Henchman #1, and Singer–who is a visual director–focused on his face a lot, at key moments. I think Singer was going for a new kind of henchman, one much more in tune with Lex Luthor, and thereby much, much scarier. It’s exactly b/c Luthor and Penn et al are so almost sympathetic—interesting, smart, intense, lively, sharing a weird camraderie–that the climactic scene of their evil (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the movie) is so horrifying.

    I went in totally expecting to be horrified, and I was pretty happy when I walked out.

    *I think there’s one line of his that’s off camera in the model train room scene.

  40. Desiwriter99,

    I’m intrested to talk to you as well, not read your script, but just find out how you got started writing, do you have a day job, etc.. etc.. You can send me an email at the link or at castingsonia@yahoo.com

    HMF