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First Sikh Actor Cast in an American Sitcom
« on: September 25, 2010, 10:44:26 PM »
American-born Guru Singh is the first Sikh to be cast in a situational comedy on network television. He will play the part of an Indian call-center employee in the new NBC show, Outsourced.

Guru Singh plays Ajeet, an Indian call-center worker, in Outsourced. This and top image courtesy NBC.

 Guru Singh plays Ajeet, an Indian call-center worker, in Outsourced. This and top image courtesy NBC. 
“This is my big break,” he said excitedly. “Vadaa-ee-aa for the Panth.” He pulled away from filming the sixth of 13 episodes for this interview.
Guru Singh has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas, which his parents thought was a sensible career track. But his long-time passion for acting did not fizzle out. He went back to college for a bachelor’s degree in acting and directing, which he received from the University of Houston. This is his first acting job although he had previously done commercials and student films.

“By chance, I got in front of the casting directors,” he said. Guru Singh has had an agent in Los Angeles for nearly three years who alerted him to this part. There were many people trying out. But he only knows of one other Sikh, a friend, Bhajneet Singh Malik, who tried out for the part. The others may have been non-Sikhs with beards and turbans, he said.

“It’s going to affect (Sikhs) in a very positive light. It’s not like Bollywood.”

Sikhs have previously made guest appearances on television shows but Guru Singh is the first Sikh cast in a network comedy.

Outsourced is about a call-center manager, Todd, whose call center is shut down in the United States. He is sent to India to train the new call center that his company set up there. The comedy flows from the misconceptions and misguided stereotypes that he and the call-center workers have of each other’s cultures.

“I think the title Outsourced may be misleading,” said Robert Borden, the show’s executive producer. “Our comedy isn't about outsourcing. This is just a point of departure for us, a way to start the story and send our lead to India.”

The show is based on a 2006 movie by the same name. One of the few differences between the movie and the show is the addition of a Sikh character.

“We added a Sikh character, Ajeet, because we wanted to represent the incredible diversity of India,” Borden said.

Guru Singh plays one of about 15 call-center workers.

“(And) Ajeet does not have any lines...yet!” Borden added. “We actually wrote a scene for him where he revealed to Todd that he grew up in America and speaks English without an Indian accent. We had to cut the scene because the script was too long, but we still hope to film a version of it later this year.”

Nevertheless, Guru Singh is very happy to be with the show. It’s a workplace comedy set in a foreign country. But all the filming takes place in Los Angeles, even the part where Todd is riding in a three-wheel scooter in Bombay. That was shot in front of a green screen.

“It’s been so well executed,” Guru Singh said. The entire cast, the story, the characters, the jokes – all are “quality material.” They are not poking fun at anyone. The humor is culturally driven. There is a South Asian influence in the creative staff. They look at all angles of what a character is going to say or do, and make sure it is realistic and believable.

“It’s a thought-out process, beaten to death sometimes and over analyzed as to whether a person would (really) react like that,” he said.

Guru Singh, Borden and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group that screened the pilot last month with NBC executives, expect the show to create a positive awareness about Sikhs by slipping in cultural education and capturing a large segment of the public.

“I think our show will only do good,” Borden said. “Over time, the characters of a television show become like a surrogate family to the viewer. I think if the show lasts several years then a positive effect for your average American viewer will be seeing these characters - who happen to be Sikh and Hindu and Muslim - as part of their family. We won't explain all of the religious beliefs of a particular character or religion, but we may end up making that character seem less like the "other.” If our characters become someone you look forward to being with every week… then one is less likely to demonize them. I hope!”

Born in Houston in 1980, Guru Singh was raised there by his parents, along with his older sister. His parents weren’t at all sure about the acting thing. It started as a hobby for Guru Singh, and flourished during high school.

What about college? Like all Indian parents, they wanted him to become a doctor, engineer, businessman or anything that was a sure career path. So he studied business in college. Not satisfied with business, Guru Singh went back for an acting degree.

“It’s a huge issue with our culture,” he said of nontraditional careers. It has to come to “that point until they (parents) see something so tangible that they are finally happy with it.

“They say it to me; they are proud,” he said. He brought his Mom to Los Angeles to see the India set.

Outsourced premieres on NBC on Sept. 23, 2010.

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