Shabana Azmi appearing as Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Director of ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) in the nine-episode Paramount+ military sci-fi drama based on an Xbox video game and produced by Steven Spielberg, to Priyanka Chopra pairing up with Scottish actor Richard Madden in the upcoming Amazon Prime Video sci-fi actioner, Indian faces are becoming increasingly commonplace in a global entertainment marketplace thriving on diversity.
With “colour blind casting” being the new buzz phrase in the entertainment industry, Indian (and Indian-descent) actors today stand a far better chance to get international visibility. Azmi explained the rationale for this shift during an interview: “As the world shrinks and becomes a global village, it becomes imperative to have an inclusive universe.”
She pointed out that it made “real good economic sense” to hire actors from across the globe. They bring their fan following in their own countries to the audience mix of the streamers, which are in the race for eyeball worldwide. “So, at every level it’s a win-win situation,” Azmi said.
The other big benefit of this cross-pollination is the possibility of spin-offs across multiple geographies. ‘Citadel’, for instance, will have local language spin-offs in India, Italy, Spain and Mexico. The Indian series, starring Varun Dhawan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu, will be directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK of ‘Family Man’ fame, and produced by Amazon Studios.
Here’s a list of 10 actors of Indian origin who have become the new global faces of streaming content.
Mindy Kaling: Vera Mindy Chokalingam, known professionally as Mindy Kaeling, first broke out with her work in the hit sitcom, ‘The Office’, where she essayed the role of Kelly Kapoor, apart from serving as writer, director and executive producer of the NBC show. She gained international attention for creating, producing and starring in the comedy series, ‘The Mindy Project’, another NBC sitcom ‘Champions’ and the Netflix original ‘Never Have I Ever’. Such is Mindy’s fan following that during the American presidential election campaign in 2020, Joe Biden running mate (and now U.S. Vice President) Kamala Harris prepared dosas with Mindy on YouTube with the obvious purpose of garnering Indian American votes.
Utkarsh Ambudkar: Actor, rapper and singer, Ambudkar, an alumnus of New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, started his career as a VJ for MTV Desi and then went on to become a cast member of ‘The Mindy Project’ and ‘Never Have I Ever’. He has made a mark internationally with his work in ‘Pitch Perfect’, ‘Blindspotting’, ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’, ‘Free Guy’, where he worked with Ryan Reynolds, and in the Oscar-nominated musical drama, ‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’ He was most recently seen in the Hulu series ‘The Dropout’, starring Amanda Seyfried and Navin Andrews, on the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos.
Simone Ashwini Pillai: Known professionally as Simone Ashley, this UK-born actress has been in the news for playing Kate Sharma in Season 2 of the Netflix Regency-era period drama, ‘Bridgerton’, which garnered 193 million views on its opening weekend. Before she attracted global attention as Kate Sharma, Ashley was a regular on another Netflix series, the comedy drama ‘Sex Education’, where she played Olivia Hanan, a member of The Untouchables.
Himesh Patel: The UK-born Indian actor, who received positive reviews for his work in the Oscar-nominated Netflix movie, ‘Don’t Look Up’, rose to fame playing Tamwar Masood in the BBC soap ‘EastEnders’ from 2007 to 2016. He appeared in the 2019 musical romantic comedy, ‘Yesterday’, and the 2020 sci-fi action movie ‘Tenet’. In 2020, Patel landed a recurring role in the comedy series ‘Avenue 5′ on HBO and in the following year, he starred in the HBO Max miniseries, ‘Station Eleven’.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan: Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ for Netflix has given creative space to talented actors with roots in the sub-continent to reach out to a global audience. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the ‘Tamil Canadian’ actress who played the lead character, Devi Vishwakumar, in the teen comedy series, was chosen by Kaling out of 15,000 candidates who applied for an open casting call for the show. Maitreyi recently voiced the character of an Indo-Canadian girl, Priya Mangal, in the Disney+ Hotstar film, ‘Turning Red’.
Poorna Jagannathan: This polyglot daughter of a diplomat who grew up in cities around the world came to the notice of Indian audiences with the 2011 action comedy, ‘Delhi Belly’, but she has been a part of a number of international projects such as the Netflix drama series, ‘Gypsy’, Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’ spin-off, ‘Better Call Saul’, Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’, where she plays the Maitreyi Ramakrishnan character’s mother, and the HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’, appearing as Katie Richmond, a recurring character.
Anupam Tripathi: The Delhi-born actor, who studied drama at the Korean National University of Arts, attained global visibility as the Pakistani migrant worker, Abdul Ali, in Netflix’s South Korean super-successful survival drama series, ‘Squid Game’. His fluency in Korean, a language he used to struggle with at first, helped him bag the part, according to Director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who has been quoted as saying that it was “hard to find good foreign actors in Korea”. Following the global success of ‘Squid Game’, Tripathi’s follower count on Instagram went up from 10,000 to over 2.5 million in a matter of days.
Rakhee Thakrar: After gaining notice as Shabnam Masood in the BBC soap, ‘EastEnders’, from 2014 to 2017, this actress from Leicester, UK, has played Emily Sands, an English teacher at Moordale Secondary School, in ‘Sex Education’ and her paths crossed with Mindy Kaling’s when she was cast as Fatima in ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’, a Hulu romantic comedy miniseries.
Kubra Sait: After gaining recognition with her character Kukoo in Netflix’s crime thriller series ‘Sacred Games’ (it was the first Indian original from the streamer), Sait has impressed an international audience with her work in the Apple TV+ sci-fi series, ‘Foundation’, where she played the character of Grand Huntress Phara Keaen.
Nimrat Kaur: ‘The Lunchbox’ star, who has played the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent Tasneem Qureishi in the espionage thriller series, ‘Homeland’, also appears in Season 2 of the American sci-fi mystery series, ‘Wayward Pines’, as a character named Rebecca Yedlin.
–By Akshay Acharya