The MetroPCS Tech & Talk ads are a long-running series (two years in December) featuring desi characters named Ranjit and Chad expounding upon the evils of contracts and benefits of MetroPCS’s phone plans and features. The characters are not a little zany, dressing up in colonial-style wigs to declare wireless independence, playing an intense guitar-riff set off by fireworks and using “Holy shishkabob!” as a catch-phrase, to give a few examples.
As I noticed in retweets about the ads posted by the characters @ranjitmetropcs and @chadmetropcs, some people found the ads hilarious, declared themselves fans of the duo, and wanted to dress up like them for Halloween. Others writing for business and tech sites found the ads cringe-worthy, racist and/or in poor taste.
Personally, I found a recent ad in which the desi duo persuade the T-Mobile lady to leave T-Mobile and join up with them funny for it’s mascot-stealing premise, and I like the wacky style of the two actors who play Ranjit and Chad. But what do you think of the ads? And what do comments like these ones retweeted by @RanjitMetroPCS –e.g., “The Indian guys in the metropcs commercials make me laugh but itd be funnier if they were in a quicky mart” and “
#lmao when the Indian maid with her accent asks me to fix her phone and she has metro pcs”–suggest in terms of what other viewers find funny?
I reached out to the actors who portray Ranjit and Chad—Anjul Nigam and Sid Veda—to find out more about the ads and what they think. Some of their responses are posted below. In addition to the questions seen below, I asked them about the audition process and whether the ads have helped them get work. Read their complete responses to learn about those topics.
What kind of work do you do outside of the MetroPCS ads?
Anjul Nigam: I’m fortunate and blessed to have been making a living as an actor based out of Los Angeles for over seventeen years now. Much of my work is in television, including a recurring on “Grey’s Anatomy” (as Psych “Dr. Raj”) and on JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! (as the lead in the quartet of “Indian Call Center Guys”).
Beyond my work as an actor, I am a founding partner at Brittany House Pictures, where we have several projects in various stages of development.
Sid Veda: Outside of the MetroPCS ads, as well as the rest of Hollywood, I work in support for a Financial Software company in NYC. I help I-Bankers structure municipal bond deals with a program called DBC Finance. In 2010, every vacation day I took was a break from tech support to pretend to be a tech/phone supporter for MetroPCS and “Outsourced.” My life has a theme, apparently.
What’s your favorite one so far?
Anjul Nigam: So far, my favorite spot for the “Tech & Talk” ads is “Solo.” I loved shooting this one because we got a chance to really let loose in it, and it’s not too often I get to be an air-guitar rock star!
Sid Veda: That’s tough… some of the more popular ones (“Solo,” “Spicy News,” and a couple others) were rather painful to shoot for me. It’s not like I have memory-pains or recurring bruises or anything, but I think I prefer the one with the Mongoose. I got a good rolling “rrrrrr” whilst petting that thing.
In a Buzzine Bollywood interview one of the ad’s writers, Kiran Koshy, says Ranjit and Chad are based on real people. What direction did you get for portraying Ranjit/Chad and how did you develop the character’s accent and zany qualities? Is Chad a nickname or short for anything?
Anjul Nigam: By real people, I believe Kiran means the characters are based on the saturation of H-1 visa holders from India in Silicon Valley. They are super intelligent, technology enthusiasts and often have heavy accents based on having been raised in India. Sometimes their sense of style is a little dated or even middle-aged, which they in fact are. I was born in India myself, and although I was raised in the US, my household was quite traditionally Indian. In fact, I grew up speaking in Hindi with my parents at home, so the Indian accent has always been easily accessible for me. Probably the most important direction we receive regarding the characters is to really enjoy ourselves… these guys love what they do (host a talk show where they get to talk about technology!) and they’re at the top of their game.
Sid Veda: Interestingly, Chad’s accent, if not his entire person, is based on a South Indian and Kiran has worked hard with me to nail the hint of dialect/accent he had in mind. He and Jason, the other writer, are extremely helpful in communicating goals and message. As for the zaniness, much of that comes from the deep recesses of the director, Jim Hosking’s mind. For some of the more challenging spots to shoot, I would be trying to follow direction or suggestions as they’re being shouted out thinking “why the why do we have to shoot a bunch of noise that will never make air?!?” When I see the finished product for the first time, I am always like “OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH… that’s why he wanted me to lick the amplifier!” I am happy to take so much of the credit that Jim actually deserves for Chad’s dancing skills.
And yes, just like Sid is short for Sridhar, Chad is short for something. That’s all you need to know at this time.
I’ve noticed different reactions to the ads, including people variously finding them 1) light-hearted and hilarious, 2) unfunny racist stereotypes, and/or 3) politically-charged ironic sendups of ethnic caricatures. What’s your take on the ads? Given these responses, do you have any regrets about working in them?
Anjul Nigam: I have absolutely no regrets about working on the campaign. On the one hand, humor is subjective, so if someone finds the ads unfunny, then I know it’s not the kind of humor that person responds to. For example, I’m not a fan of toilet humor, and am usually turned off by content that contains it; but I’m not judgmental of it.
Meanwhile, I find the negative response is often misplaced. Perhaps, sometimes people have a knee-jerk reaction to things they believe are caricatures, but it’s important to remember that every stereotype is based on a certain reality. Personally, I have known many Indians who are very much like Ranjit and Chad, their accents, style, energy, etc. And yet still, beyond that, for me an accent is merely an extension of a character’s wardrobe. I don’t ever hear anyone finding Hugh Jackson’s Australian accent denigrating. It’s all a matter of perception.
With regard to racism, it’s worth taking a look the cultural immersion of other ethnicities, each which have their own set of challenges and advantages. For example, twenty years after the Civil Rights era, African American filmmaker Robert Townsend made a movie called HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, which satirized the racial stereotypes of African Americans in film and television. A significant portion of the black population in America had achieved a certain position in American society, and it was being depicted in content like “The Cosby Show.” Townsend’s film was a no holds barred depiction that Townsend was able to make through humor.
In the same light, Indians are now one of the most successful minorities in the US, a group that continues to have an increasingly greater presence in the forefront of technology, business and media. If we are not in a place to have fun with ourselves, I don’t know who is.
Sid Veda: No regrets whatsoever! We made two silly characters to pitch a terrific telecomm deal; we are not making a statement about 1 billion Indians. The fact that Ranjit and Chad were born to pitch the most cost-effective deal in celluworld (by far) is a blessing.
And seriously… having worked in tech support since 2000 (as well as in telemarketing for Stanley Steemer in college), how offended should I be by the stereotype?
Read the complete interview to learn more about their experiences with the auditions and how the ads affected their ability to get work.