Desi-spotting by decade

If you spotted a desi in America in…

…the 1960s: Well, you probably did not spot all that many but did some jumping around with a few “yahoos” thrown in if you did.

…the 1970s: You became their best friend and quite possibly moved in with them for at least a few months.

…the 1980s: “Mom. Dad. Look another Indian/Desi person.” Followed by a big smile.

…the 1990s: (more discreetly) “Mom. Dad. Look another Indian/Desi person.” Followed by an attempt to hide a smile.

…the 2000s: Dude, there is a desi person on that television show! No way! We have to watch.

…this decade: Dude, there is yet another desi person on television (yawn)…but without an “obviously desi” name:

Principal Figgins of Glee

Jai Wilcox of Covert Affairs (whose father apparently led the National Clandestine Service. Right. Must be adopted).

Tom Haverford of Parks and Rec (and yes I know his real name is Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani )

Jonathan of 30 Rock

Additional examples? Future predictions?

35 thoughts on “Desi-spotting by decade

  1. lawrence kutner (aka kal penn) from house… also adopted according to the story line

  2. Not the best example but “Little Mosque on the Prairie”…the hijabi and the imam are half and full desi respectively. Ooohhh and we sure can’t forget Coronation Street with sleazy looking Dev and his hoard of brown gfs/admirers (I know both aren’t American but you didn’t specify as to which kind of television!)

  3. Not exactly what you’re looking for, but “Mindy Kaling” is not very desi, nor is “Kal Penn”.

    BTW, my vote would be: This decade — “Look, another Southern Desi Republican politician.”

  4. Not exactly what you’re looking for, but “Mindy Kaling” is not very desi, nor is “Kal Penn”

    Yes, this is quite different than I am talking about. Kal Penn is simply a stage name. I am talking about the names of characters.

  5. dave from flight of the concords.

    rajesh ramayan kuthrapali from the big bang theory.

  6. Divya Katdare from Royal Pains

    Leigh (the cop) from The Gates

    the cast of the show that’s coming to nbc this fall, outsourced.

  7. Hopefully the next step isn’t to hyper desi-fy names into like “Kamalkant Shantilal Gandhi”.

    But this timeline — spot on. I totally agree. However I’m still excited to see Indians in the media. Not over it yet.

  8. Additional examples?

    Rebecca Logan (Dilshad Vadsaria) in Greek. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) in Lost (not that there aren’t many desis named Sayid, but he plays an Iraqi). Theresa (Navi Rawat) in The O.C.. Niobe (Indira Varma) in Rome Adrienne Holland (Indira Varma again) in 3 lbs. Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma) in Battlestar Galactica. Tim Speedle (Rory Cochrane) in CSI: Miami. Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in Burn Notice.

    Well, a few of these actors are half-desi; but given that that’s also true for some of us or our progeny, I suppose they are fair game.

    Future predictions?

    Leading roles (as opposed to supporting characters) until brown becomes almost a prerequisite for superstardom ;-)

  9. 2020′s: Hey! A Hollywood movie with an Indian American director that doesn’t have a twist ending/suck!

  10. In the future, more actresses/actors will have keep brown character names in their characters, like Sarita Malik (Rekha Sharma) on V.

  11. What really confuses me is the common practice of our movies and shows using nonsensical “indian” sounding names. It’s OK if it’s a satire on related stuff, and using a nonsensical name adds to that, but many times, it just seems like lazy writing when coming up with such idiotic names. Take a crappy movie like Paul Blart – Mall Cop. One Indian guy’s name is Pahud. Would Premji or Prasad or whatever be any less funny to a moron who finds Mall Cop funny? Why go through the extra effort of making up a name like Pahud??

    Or Hrundi Bakshi from the Party. Is Hrundi even an Indian name? I think I would rather see a Western name for an Indian character than some of these sloppy names used.

  12. Or Hrundi Bakshi from the Party. Is Hrundi even an Indian name? I think I would rather see a Western name for an Indian character than some of these sloppy names used.

    sort of like the comical sounding names used for non-native characters in Indian movies. So in Hindi movies a S.Indian character may be named Gendaswami, and in a Tamil m0ovie a N.Indian character may be named Hincha Shah, and in both movies characters of African/East Asian heritage (usually played by Indian actors wearing outrageously caricaturous makeup) will carry the wierdest names possible, such as Karate Parota, Nikumo Nikada, or Gula Hula Jack. We used to know a Nigerian dancer those days in Bombay (late 70s early 80s) – Darlington – an outstanding dancer – who was one of ht emost sought after dancing extras in Hindi movies. Although Darlington could speak fluent Hindi, he was always cast as some caricature in one of those dancing standoffs, “Vijay vs. Dancing Champion of the World”

    Hrundi Bakshi is one of all time favourites!

  13. Dude, there is yet another desi person on television (yawn)…but without an “obviously desi” name:

    The lack of “obviously Desi” names may be a good or a bad sign depending. It could be good if the roles weren’t specifically written for a desi actor but they got cast anyway. It would be bad if they just don’t think “funny” names should be on TV.

  14. kalinda sharma in the good wife. archie panjabi playing a desi with a more authentic desi name than her real name. now that’s a switch.

  15. re: Neil

    2020′s: Hey! A Hollywood movie with an Indian American director that doesn’t have a twist ending/suck!

    What about Tarsem Singh and The Cell…oh wait, he wasn’t born in the US, so he’s probably in the same category as Shekar Kapoor, Mira Nair, etc…But at least his movie didn’t suck ~ even with Jennifer Lopez in it.

  16. A better example of a good Tarsem Singh movie would be “The Fall”

    Desi spotting varies by geographic area. When visiting small towns in south if I cross paths with desis, it’s like the 1960s scenario, where as in the parts of the bay area where I live, it’s close to living in the desh.

  17. Let’s not forget desi’s are directing and producing movies as well: m night shyamalan , Jay Chandrasekhar, Mira Nair

  18. My family still gets excited. Since we moved to Northern Washington state, we’ve watched A LOT of Candian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). We still get excited when we see a desi on tv. We should be totally over it right now but we just cant seem to get past the fact that we’re seeing so many desis on tv. BTW, have you noticed that this year’s America’s Got Talent had like 5 desi Acts? One was even a Malayalee uncle who did impressions! He was awful.. but still!

  19. Someone mentioned Navi Rawat as an example of a desi character without an Indian-sounding name on the OC (which was true), though to be fair, she was Amita Ramanujan in Numb3rs and her name was Maya in Flash Forward. And let’s not forget “Aliens in America” which starred Raja Musharaff as Adhir Kalyan. So maybe the tide is (slowly) turning.

  20. “obviously Desi” should really say “obviously hindu/muslim/sikh/jain” etc. A very common Christian and Indian Christian name is “Jonathan”.

    I know, a trivial nitpicky gripe, but “obviously desi” shouldn’t mean “obviously not a christian”

  21. What really confuses me is the common practice of our movies and shows using nonsensical “indian” sounding names. It’s OK if it’s a satire on related stuff, and using a nonsensical name adds to that, but many times, it just seems like lazy writing when coming up with such idiotic names. Take a crappy movie like Paul Blart – Mall Cop. One Indian guy’s name is Pahud. Would Premji or Prasad or whatever be any less funny to a moron who finds Mall Cop funny? Why go through the extra effort of making up a name like Pahud?? Or Hrundi Bakshi from the Party. Is Hrundi even an Indian name? I think I would rather see a Western name for an Indian character than some of these sloppy names used.

    On that note, and also that of non-Desis playing desis (like Peter Sellers as Hrundi Bakshi), let’s not forget that notorious desi übermensch played by Ricardo Montalban — Khan Noonien Singh.

  22. Neal you thought the cell didn’t suck?

    yeah, i thought it was pretty good. Probably from lowered expectations given that it starred Jennifer Lopez. That said, Ebert called it one of the best in 2001.

    BTW – sunil, thanks:

    A better example of a good Tarsem Singh movie would be “The Fall”

    i missed it when it came out….top of my netflix list now.

  23. Let’s not forget desi’s are directing and producing movies as well: m night shyamalan , Jay Chandrasekhar, Mira Nair

    Jay Chandrasekhar is Sendhil Ramamurthy’s cousin. Who knew ? Don’t forget Rhona Mitra, the original model for Lara Croft. Seems to have cornered the fantasy /vampire genre. Was in the last Underworld movie and now in the series “The Gates”.

  24. this decade: Dude, there is yet another desi person on television (yawn)…but without an “obviously desi” name:
    “obviously Desi” should really say “obviously hindu/muslim/sikh/jain” etc. A very common Christian and Indian Christian name is “Jonathan”.
    I know, a trivial nitpicky gripe, but “obviously desi” shouldn’t mean “obviously not a christian”

    FWIW, I don’t think it’s trivial or nitpicky, but I’m used to being the Christian killjoy. We’re never going to sound “obviously” Desi, to Desis or anyone else. :)

  25. Like I said, names like Jay, Anna, Mindy dont bother me at all. It’s freaking names like Punju, Ganihanaju ,or whatever that annoy me. Names that are not remotely Indian or any other nationality. Unless there is a double meaning or intentional satire, I despise use of nonsensical words because the writers cannot be bothered to learn a few real Indian names that could still serve a comedic purpose.

  26. Anna and others,

    As a full blooded who lived in Kerala for 17ish years, and another 5 all over South India, I have to say that Jonathan doesn’t really sound Indian. John, Mathew (and Mathais), Paul (or Paulose is you wish), Kevin, Lenin, etc? Sure. I am yet to meet a Desi Jonathan. Also, as a side note, a lot of Christians in India has names like Arputharaj and such.

    I will concede this though: When Americans think of Desi sounding names, they don’t think Biblical ones.

  27. Jonathan doesn’t really sound Indian.

    That’s because it isn’t. It’s the ENGLISH variant of the HEBREW name Yonatan, which means “given by god” or more loftily, “God’s gift”. Find a proper designation in any desh language and it would be an “Indian” name. The virtue of being attached to an Indian doesn’t make any ol’ name Indian.

  28. …next decade (or maybe two decades from now depending on how things go): Dude, there is yet another desi person on television WITH an obviously desi name doing a mix of American and South Asian cultural things and food and no one bats an eye (yawn that).

  29. the 2010′s…. wow.. and she’s holding hands… with another desi guy! Quick ! take a picture.