Indian-origin American actor Aasif Mandvi played out various stereotypes while exploring a career in Hollywood because he had just two options — grab the opportunity or starve. Now, the Indian-American star is happy that these things are being challenged and says that people have started seeing the economic and financial viability of telling stories that do not revolve only around white people.
“Early in my career, I think there was a lot of that (stereotypical notions attached to people of colour), and it continues in some respects even today. But we are at a point in history where a lot of these things are being challenged. A lot of ideas of who gets to tell what stories and what stories matter are now being questioned. I think we’re also seeing the economic and financial viability of telling stories of people who are not just white,” Aasif told IANS in an interview.
“The heroes don’t always have to be white men. When I was coming up in the business, there were a lot of stereotypes, a lot of playing what I like to call the ‘patanki-ing’, which is like the way the westerners hear the Indian accent, which is like, patank, patank, patank, patank. And a lot of (people) asking us to do that, and sort of play with those stereotypes. I find that less now. The culture has changed, Hollywood has changed somewhat. We still need a South Asian superhero, and that will be the culmination,” he shared, and joked: “When that happens, then I’ll have nothing to bitch about.”
Born in Mumbai, Aasif moved to England and then shifted to Florida when he was 16 to settle down with his family. He has played a range of roles in film such as “The Proposal”, “Ghost Town“, “The Internship“, “Today’s Special” and “Spider-Man 2“, and has gone on to carve a way onto the small screen with shows such as “The Brink“, “Halal In The Family“, “The Daily Show” and “Evil”.
Looking back at his career, he said: “I’ve just always been doing my work. I’ve done television, movies and theatre. My Indian parents were incredibly disappointed to realise that the only thing their son was good at was being a clown and sort of just being a ham, acting and performing, writing poetry which nobody reads.
“But that was always just part of my DNA. What I was doing as a child, I continued to do as an adult, and so I just kept (going) on. I was lucky enough to study and go to school for this and then get work and there was no alternative for me. So it was like, either I play the bus driver or the cab driver or whatever stereotypical role there was or I starve, in the early days, that’s kind of what it was for me,” added the comedian and writer.
Mention that his parents must be proud of him today, he said: “I think ultimately, my parents did come around and were quite excited, especially when I got on ‘The Daily Show’. I think that was a big moment for them. I always used to joke with my mother that I was her second favourite ‘Daily Show’ correspondent.”
Right now, Aasif is seen on the small screen as Ben Shakir on the series “Evil”, which airs on Zee Cafe. The psychological mystery examines the origins of evil along the dividing line between science and religion.
Talking about his character, Aasif said: “My character is a true pragmatist. He only believes in the things that he can see, smell, taste, and touch. He doesn’t believe in any kind of religious mumbo jumbo, he doesn’t believe in anything that is outside of the realm of what he can’t prove. He’s also very handy and can fix things. So he’s very different than I am. But there’s an element of being a counter voice to the status quo that I liked about him and that I really related to and sort of found fun.”