These Boots Are Made for Scene-stealin’

good-wife30.jpgIf you’re televisually predisposed to legal-drama addiction (I think it runs in my family), you may have heard of The Good Wife, which at first glance looks like a Law & Order-style star vehicle for Julianna Margulies, who recently won a Best Actress Golden Globe for her role on it. The series debuted last fall and SM blogged that Archie Panjabi would be on it. Her role is a supporting character, but I think Panjabi’s Kalinda Sharma, the tough, mysterious legal investigator, is a bit of a scene-stealer. Fans and critics can’t get enough of Kalinda.

“I’d also like to see Kalinda’s character developed a little bit more. Right now she just pops up a few times an episode, wearing kickass boots and generally being feisty. She drinks martinis, she flips the bird, she shows off her cleavage to get the job done. Archie Panjabi is a great actress (also, gorgeous) and I am glad she’s not an Asian stereotype — but I want to see more of her.” (LA Times)

Kalinda’s sexy trademark outfits with high-heeled boots and leather jackets definitely help her stand out. Most of the other cast members are conservatively suited up to blend in at a tony Chicago law firm. In a behind the scenes clip, the show’s costume designer mentions that everyone’s “mad” for Kalinda’s blogworthy boots.

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p> There’s more to her character than how she looks, of course. Kalinda’s dialogue is full of snappy one-liners and zingers (see below for a few examples), delivered in an American accent by Panjabi, who was born in Middlesex, England, and seems to have a lot of experience with different accents. This can be a welcome contrast to the calm and measured tones of Alicia Florrick, the strong leading character portrayed by Margulies. As People puts it, Kalinda’s “sarcastic bite plays off Alicia’s prudent reserve.”

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Alicia: The last time I was in Court it was 13 years ago.
Kalinda: Wow, I was twelve!

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Cary: Reminds me of my old high school.
Kalinda: Reminds me of the schools I used to vandalize.

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Diane: I… don’t know. Should I be looking for something else?
Kalinda: Well, that’s like asking the dentist whether you should brush.

Kalinda is also described as bisexual. Not on the show’s web site though, or on the show itself. As far as I can tell, one Rediff article referred to her as a “bisexual Indian investigator” and that coupled with viewer scrutiny of some scenes (Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2) sparked online discussion of the character’s bisexuality (AfterEllen, Velvetpark). Panjabi herself is careful not to reveal too much when asked about it: “I think the more time you spend with a person in life, the more you actually get to know about them.” (NY Mag). Maybe someone let something slip in that earlier Rediff piece that the show was hoping to reveal over the course of a few seasons. Now that it’s been renewed for another season, viewers may get more of that slow reveal, including Kalinda’s romantic life and personal history.

Panjabi was asked about the show not addressing her being desi. I think some of that is due to The Good Wife still being in its early stages (sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer to proclaim myself a fan!) or the mysterious side to her character. We know her character’s name is Kalinda Sharma. The rest is yet to come…or not. Here’s the actress’s response:

It’s also interesting that it’s never addressed that you’re Indian.
Yeah, I really like that they’ve accepted me as an investigative attorney who dresses the way she does, and there’s never any mention about my race. She’s accepted for her job, and it’s quite nice that they haven’t tackled that. You don’t even know where I’m from, which is also quite interesting. I’m sure in time you’ll see a few cracks in the characters, you get a window into each of their lives, but just enough to continue to guess.

I can only hope for a Kalinda spin-off series in the future! You can read the rest of NY Mag’s interview with Panjabi from last week and watch clips of her performance below.

More Archie on SM: Archie Panjabi to star in CBS’s The Good Wife, Panjabi having a very ‘Good year’, ‘Yasmin’ in Queens, The spy who loved me

More Archie elsewhere: angry asian man, archiepanjabi.com, WSJ, NY Post, More from the costume designer on Kalinda’s look

More Good Wife: At the moment, the last two full episodes are online.

20 thoughts on “These Boots Are Made for Scene-stealin’

  1. i think it’s nice when backgrounds aren’t “addressed.” if you aren’t of the mainstream, no matter the context, you will have to “address” your background (this exists outside of a racial context, i have met mormons who have to explain to people who aren’t familiar with their religion that they’re not polygamists routinely). but you know it is just a background, useful if you are an insurance actuary perhaps, but often not totally relevant in interpersonal relationships, especially work relationships.

  2. She’s not exoticized [assumably- I haven't watched The Good Wife.] Or “whitened” which is the extreme end of non-exoticization. It’s all so complicated. Everyone will agree on the boots though.

  3. Archie Punjabi is great. I remember watching her first in a movie called “East is East”. She was also in the BBC mini series based on Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

  4. I really like this show. I think the actors are all fantastic; from the Florick children, to the mother, the really great Juliana Marguiles, and yeah Archie Panjabi.

    It’s odd to me that her boots are such a great hit. If anything I’d say her outfit and hairdo on the show are somewhat unflattering [compared to the other movies I've seen her in], But i’m a dude so my opinion doesn’t matter.

  5. Her mother isn’t white. Her character’s mother is white in her breakthrough role in the film East is East.

  6. I don’t know whether comments #5 & 7 are talking about the actress or one of the characters she has portrayed. I’m not too sure of Kalinda’s age either given that her comment about being twelve thirteen years ago was delivered just as seriously as her telling Alicia about the firm’s tradition of tequila shots (which is to say not very).

  7. I think the show’s pretty great, and I like that they cast a South Asian actress and made no bones about it, but as an American I have to say I’m pretty bummed that they couldn’t find an American South Asian actress to play the part. Not that Panjabi’s a bad choice – she’s a great actress – but there must be some American actresses waiting for a chance at the big time. Maybe it’ll be their turn next.

  8. I think the show’s pretty great, and I like that they cast a South Asian actress and made no bones about it, but as an American I have to say I’m pretty bummed that they couldn’t find an _American_ South Asian actress to play the part. Not that Panjabi’s a bad choice – she’s a great actress – but there must be some American actresses waiting for a chance at the big time. Maybe it’ll be their turn next.

    i think it’s great that the show is both indifferent to the character’s ethnicity, as well as the nationality of the actress.

    Excellent casting on this show,incl. Ms. Punjabi

  9. ” I have to say I’m pretty bummed that they couldn’t find an _American_ South Asian actress to play the part”

    Unsurprising though in today’s showbiz world. There are Britons like Hugh Laurie and Idris Elba playing white and black American roles, and an Australian (Sam Worthington) playing the lead in Avatar. There’s plenty of talent beyond US shores, so hopefully its a matter of the directors looking for talent and not worrying too much about where it comes from. Plus, I’d wager that the demographics of the UK are more conducive to producing top desi actors than the US.

    “She is not pretty at all.”

    Thanks chopra. Your contribution really adds a lot.

  10. This show is more like Law and Order than Judging Amy, so why the hell would you name it The Good Wife?? I just assumed it was an extended version of some Women’s Entertainment Network movie. It’s way cooler than that. Title FAIL.

  11. I’ve only watched one episode of this show, and even Ms. Panjabi’s excellent acting couldn’t convince me to tune in again. I just can’t get into it. The plotline was very paint-by-numbers.

    That said, I’m glad she’s getting recognized for her work and isn’t being written as a stereotypical desi character…although…if you take into account current desi series regulars, I don’t know what a stereotypical desi character is anymore. To wit:

    Kelly on The Office: girlfriend is a boy crazy space cadet and formed a girl group named Sensual Sexuality. Tom on Parks and Recreation: loud middle management type who married a Caucasian Canadian girl to help her get her green card; loves rap music and tries really hard to be hip, although there are indicators that it’s all a front (he’s sensitive!) Jonathan on 30 Rock: sycophantic assistant to Alec Baldwin’s character who can’t do enough for his . would be offensive if it weren’t for the fact that currently, he’s the only desi character of this type on TV

    Anyway. I was trying to make a point that I probably failed at making. Point is, we’re moving out of the doctor zone on TV, which is cool.