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Blurring boundaries: Indian actors playing Pakistanis in American series

With Nimrat Kaur playing an ISI agent in an American drama series, we take a look at what makes Indian and Indian-origin actors good choices to play Pakistani characters in Hollywood films and TV shows

For most Indian actors and Indian-origin actors, landing a role in a Hollywood film (even if it is blink-and-miss part) or in Western television shows is a big deal. Most are keen on going global and love to tomtom about making a mark in the West.

Nimrat Kaur essays a Pakistani character in the fourth season of the American political thriller television series Homeland for which she shot in South Africa. She essays the character of Tasneem Kureshi, a high-level operative within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Nimrat Kaur essays a Pakistani character in the fourth season of the American political thriller television series Homeland for which she shot in South Africa. She essays the character of Tasneem Kureshi, a high-level operative within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Ironically, most Indian actors are ending up essaying Pakistani characters in these projects. Since our neighbouring country has caught the fancy of many Western writers and filmmakers, it has been serving as a backdrop in many of their plots.

Parminder Nagra plays  gun-toting field agent Meera Malik in the American crime drama,  The Blacklist
Parminder Nagra plays gun-toting field agent Meera Malik in the American crime drama, The Blacklist

The latest Indian export to the West is The Lunchbox actress Nimrat Kaur, who will be seen in the upcoming season of American TV series, Homeland. She essays the character of a Pakistani ISI agent in season four of the thriller. Meanwhile, Life Of Pi actor Suraj Sharma, a Delhi boy, plays a Pakistani medical student in this Emmy-award winning show that stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis.

Suraj Sharma portrays a Pakistani medical student in the American TV series, Homeland
Suraj Sharma portrays a Pakistani medical student in the American TV series, Homeland

Nimrat and Suraj have been shooting in South Africa for Homeland that premieres next month. Says Nimrat, “So what if we are playing Pakistani characters? We were one till a political event divided us. We have the same passion for cricket and food. The show is a huge draw and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

Dev Patel played a Pakistani teenager in the British teen drama, Skins
Dev Patel played a Pakistani teenager in the British teen drama, Skins

The actress says it is because of the sameness quotient that many Indian actors end up playing Pakistani characters in the West. She says, “We are the same people. I am from Punjab and most of my family is from Rawalpindi and Lahore. We speak the same language, so it is easier. If I had been asked to essay the role of say, a Spanish character, I would have found it tough as I would not know about the nuances, but playing a Pakistani is easier.”

Naveen Andrews played Pakistani doctor, Hasnat Khan, who is said to have had a  special relationship with Lady Diana in the 2013 film, Diana
Naveen Andrews played Pakistani doctor, Hasnat Khan, who is said to have had a special relationship with Lady Diana in the 2013 film, Diana

Nimrat auditioned for her part in London and a few days later, she was on board. As Pakistani ISI agent, Tasneem Qureshi, her character is shown to be lead actor Claire Danes’s nemesis on the show. She is someone who knows how to get her work done. Suraj, on the other hand, portrays Aayan Ibrahim, a Pakistani medical student, who crosses paths with Claire Danes.

Aasif Mandvi is cast as a Pakistani character in the US comedy series, The Brink
Aasif Mandvi is cast as a Pakistani character in the US comedy series, The Brink

In the ongoing American crime series The Blacklist, Indian-origin British actress Parminder Nagra (best remembered as the football-loving girl in Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham), plays the gun-toting field agent Meera Malik who takes on terrorists.

Past references
Slumdog Millionaire actor Dev Patel played Pakistani teenager Anwar Kharral in the British teen drama, Skins, that followed the lives of a group of youngsters in Bristol. The show, which aired from 2007 to 2013, explored issues such as dysfunctional families, mental illness, adolescent sexuality and substance abuse.

Similarly, Indian-American actor Aasif Mandvi plays the Pakistani character of Rafiq Massoud in The Brink. This TV series is a dark comedy focusing on a geopolitical crisis. He is also the writer and co-producer of the series.

In the 2013 biographical film Diana, that starred Naomi Watts in the title role, another Indian-origin actor Naveen Andrews essayed the part of Pakistani doctor, Hasnat Khan, who is said to have had a special relationship with Lady Diana.

It may also be pointed out that Shobu Kapoor, a British actress of Indian descent, plays a Pakistani wife in the British sitcom, Citizen Khan.

The exception

Ali Fazal, who will be seen in Fast and Furious 7, apparently essays the role of an Arab in this action franchise that’s slated to release next year.

Ali Fazal. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Ali Fazal. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

He shot for the film in Abu Dhabi; his character is shown to be passionate about cars and races.

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