New Delhi, Manish Dayal, a prominent South Asian actor in Hollywood, believes a new documentary criticising stereotypical prejudices in popular character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from “The Simpsons” was a necessary intervention.
The 34-year-old actor says “The Problem with Apu” by Hari Kondabolu highlights the portrayal of negative South Asian stereotypes in the hit American sitcom, a conversation that many Indian-Americans like him always wanted to initiate.
Dayal, known to fans for his role of an aspiring chef in “The Hundred Foot Journey” opposite Helen Mirren and Om Puri, says he himself has always tried to break such stereotypes through his work.
“Hari did an amazing job at exposing something that we had all experienced as young people. ‘The Simpsons’ was the only depiction of what it meant to be an Indian. And to be limited by a stereotypical flat animated version of being an Indian is an injustice to us all.
“We have so many different qualities and skills. To be limited to one animated version of ourselves is not fair. How can we recover from such a reputation? Hari did a fantastic job with his documentary and approached a subject so many of us wanted to talk about,” Dayal, who was born in a Gujarati family in Orangeburg, South Carolina, told PTI in a telephonic interview from Los Angeles.
The actor is currently starring in medical drama “The Resident”, which premiers on May 11 on Star World in India. The show will air on weekdays at 9 p.m.
Dayal plays a first-year resident, Devon Pravesh, who has a rosy picture about what a doctor should be when he arrives at the Chastain Park Memorial Hospital. But gradually, he realises that it takes more than big brains to be a good doctor.
“Devon is the picture of the American dream. He’s a third generation immigrant from a blue-collar family. He graduated at the top of his class in Harvard and looks forward to healing people. For me, that is what means to be an American today,” he says.
The actor says he was conscious about representing an NRI character, who was real, and pushed the envelope further as South Asians have for long remained in the “margin” of Hollywood.
“It’s about first creating the parts for ourselves. But beyond that, it’s about understanding how the parts influence the stories that we’re telling. Putting an Indian person on screen is the first step but having them remain in the margin of the story is not going to push our world forward.
“To really be a part of the movement, we have to see our people and characters influence the stories we are telling. That they are really the part of the behaviour of our story. How they add to the solution or how they fail to be a part of it,” he says.
Dayal says “not many” Indian-origin actors had played doctors. They have mostly been portrayed in the roles of “cab drivers and nerds”.
“But if you see, in the US alone, South Asian doctors are in huge numbers. To have that on screen (was important), medical world is crowded with Indians and children of immigrants,” he adds.
The actor was barely 17 when he fell in love with acting while helping his friend with the lights on a short film project.
“He asked me to be in front of the camera for a minute and read the lines. And that environment… It just hit me in a way. I enjoyed what I was doing. I understood it,” he says recalling his first experience as an actor.
Dayal, who has worked in international projects such as “The Hundred Foot Journey” and “The Viceroy’s House” including Marvel TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, says he does not discriminate between Hollywood and Hindi cinema. It is the story that matters the most to him.
“It’s not about Bollywood or Hollywood. It’s more about what’s the story we are telling and who’s telling it. What’s the role about.”
Reminiscing the time spent with late actor Om Puri, his co-star in “The Hundred Foot Journey” and “The Viceroy’s House”, the actor says the veteran star told him to ask the question – “‘What is the poetry in the story?'”
“That’s what I try to look for. Omji taught me that,” Dayal says.
Loosely based on the lives of the show creators Amy Holden Jones, Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, “The Resident” also features Emily VanCamp and Matt Czuchry.