“This guy’s a really good programmer, so that makes him arrogant, because of his skills in a very specific world. And then I take that arrogance and apply it to every other aspect of his life that he’s not good at. So I think that guy’s funny ’cause he’s arrogant — about everything, about how he thinks he is with the ladies. He’s not good with the ladies. You know, all that stuff. He thinks he’s cool. He’s not cool. He’s only good at programming.” Kumail Nanjiani on his role in HBO's "Silicon Valley"
Kumail Nanjiani, born in Karachi, Pakistan, has found success as a stand-up comedian in the United States. After completing high school in Pakistan, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa where he graduated in 2001. His comedy has been featured on a number of popular television shows including the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Conan. He has written for and acted on "Michael & Michael Have Issues" and has appeared on The Colbert Report and Burning Love.
Kumail's latest work is HBO’s new comedy, “Silicon Valley”, a half hour live action series that takes a light-hearted look at the start-up culture of Silicon Valley. The show, which premieres on Sunday, April 6, is written and directed by Mike Judge, who was also behind “Beavis and Butt-head,” “Office Space” and “King of the Hill.” Kumail plays Dinesh Chugtai, an Islamabad-born Pakistani-American character, working as a lead engineer in a fictional start-up tech company called "The Pied Piper". The San Francisco Chronicle has praised it not only one of the best shows of the season, but the “best tech show yet” and “a Silicon Valley rarity: a start-up that’s a sure thing.” Here's an excerpt of San Francisco Chronicle's review of "Silicon Valley":
"“Silicon Valley” is full of quips and jabs that those familiar with the tech industry will find amusing, but it’s also broad enough to lure in average HBO watchers in the mood for a comedy. The show debuts on April 6 right after "Game of Thrones" on HBO."
Marvel Entertainment has recently introduced a new Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American superhero named Kamala Khan. Shahid Khan, a Pakistani-American businessman, became the first non-white owner of an NFL team two years ago. It's good to see Pakistani-Americans making their mark in sports and entertainment in addition to more traditional occupations like engineering and medicine.
Here's a video clip of Kumail Nanjiani's act:
Burka Avenger: Pakistani Female Superhero
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He is playing an Indian in the series right?
Roy: "He is playing an Indian in the series right?"
Yes, Kumail is playing Dinesh. It's no different that Indian actors playing Pakistani character roles in many shows.
Here's an excerpt from an India West story on the HBO series "Silicon Valley":
Pakistani American standup comedian Kumail Nanjiani has a large role in the new show, as Dinesh, a snide, quick-witted Indian American computer whiz whose aplomb — and English skills — go straight out the window in one early episode when he comes face to face with a sassy hooker named Mochaccino that his roommate has hired for a party.
Muttering in Hindi, Dinesh shyly slinks away, later explaining that growing up in India, he never even spoke to a person of the opposite sex until the age of 17.
Because each character is so precisely created and impeccably performed — such as the blustering, pretentious Erlich (T.J. Miller), who loans out rooms in his mid-century Palo Alto home, dubs it a start-up incubator and calls it Hacker Hostel; and the borderline-Aspergers billionaire tech investor Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), whose rapid-fire speech and inability to look people in the eye is most unnerving — much of the humor in “Silicon Valley” can be appreciated by a universal audience. But it’s the little in-jokes — about useless apps, nerdy millionaires, the high cost of rent and the ever-shifting loyalties in the industry — that will have the greatest impact on viewers who are deeply familiar with this world. Repeat viewings are highly advised.
Judge is also known as the creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill,” and his feature films include “Idiocracy,” “Extract” and “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.”
If the first two episodes are any indication, “Silicon Valley” has a few plum roles for desi actors, if not many opportunities for other Asian actors. In the first two episodes, Sri Lankan actor Bernard White (see separate article) appears as a quasi-enlightened spiritual guru who is totally full of it; and Charan Prabhakar makes a strong impression as Javed, another techie who makes an obnoxious speech at a sadly deserted, but lavishly budgeted, company party. Aly Mawji plays a programmer bent on stealing lead character Richard’s (Thomas Middleditch) idea for a powerful compression algorithm destined to change the world.
The HBO Silicon Valley story is very similar to my husband Glenn's story. We will definitely watch the show. Four white guys and one desi guy start a company in college, get acquired, move out to the SF Bay Area, share a house with a pool, and make a lot of money!
The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication announced on Wednesday that Pakistan's "Burka Avenger," an animated television show about a burka-clad schoolteacher who fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls' school where she works, will receive one of the 2013 Peabody Awards (Dawn). The Urdu-language show, which airs on Geo TV, emphasizes the importance of girls' education and other lessons, such as not discriminating against others.
The awards, some of the most prestigious prizes in broadcasting, recognize "excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals" on an annual basis, and will be handed out at an awards ceremony in New York City on May 19.
How young are the top tech geeks? Ages of #SiliconValley founders at founding of companies.
The data we collected confirms that 20-something founders are quite common among those who have built billion-dollar businesses.
The challenge with measuring age is that the data is relatively hard to find. Unless a founder has given his or her age in a magazine profile, or maintains a particularly public Facebook account, it’s hard to get age data without actually surveying entrepreneurs. But there is one clue to founder age that is often publicly available: the year they received an undergraduate degree, listed on LinkedIn. We decided to use this as a proxy for the age at which the founder was 22, under the assumption that this would provide age data that was accurate within a year or two. Unfortunately, LinkedIn does not include this data in its API, so we were limited by having to do manual research. We therefore picked a small but disproportionately influential dataset to examine: the founders of private, VC-backed companies valued at $1 billion or more.
The average age at founding in our dataset was just over 31, and the median was 30. Today, of course, these founders are quite a bit older, with an average age just under 39, and a median of 38.
From Forbes 4/14/14 issue:
"Put flags in a world map and you will see Sequoia (Silicon Valley's Top Venture Capital Firm that funded Oracle, Cisco, Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn) connecting with entrepreneurs born in Ukraine, Ireland, Finland, Greece, India, Pakistan, Venezuela and a dozen other countries. (By contrast, Kauffman Foundation data show that barely a quarter of all U.S. startups have at least one immigrant cofounder.)"
article claims Sequoia has 'connected' with Pakistani entrepreneurs. Do you know of any funded by them?
Saad: "article claims Sequoia has 'connected' with Pakistani entrepreneurs. Do you know of any funded by them? "
I know at least 2 Sequoia funded #SiliconValley startups founded by #Pakistanis: Ashar Aziz's #Fireeye, Naveed Sherwani's #OpenSilicon
Ashar Aziz, founder of FireEye, was born in Karachi. Here's more on his bio:
Anders: "Ashar Aziz, founder of FireEye, was born in Karachi"
Naveed Sherwani, founder of OpenSilicon in #SiliconValley, also born in Karachi, graduated from NED Engg Univ #Pakistan
Thanks. Appreciate the heads-up about Naveed Sherwani, too.
Anders: "Appreciate the heads-up about Naveed Sherwani, too."
Here's more about #Pakistani-American tech founders in #SiliconValley. Pl read related links too. http://www.riazhaq.com/2013/09/fireeyes-pakistani-american-founder.html …
From Forbes 4/14/14 issue:
"Put flags in a world map and you will see Sequoia (Silicon Valley's Top Venture Capital Firm that funded Oracle, Cisco, Yahoo, Google and LinkedIn) connecting with entrepreneurs born in Ukraine, Ireland, Finland, Greece, India, Pakistan, Venezuela and a dozen other countries. (By contrast, Kauffman Foundation data (compiled by Vivek Wadhawa)show that barely a quarter of all U.S. startups have at least one immigrant cofounder.)"
I know at least 2 Sequoia funded #SiliconValley startups founded by #Pakistanis: Ashar Aziz's #Fireeye, Naveed Sherwani's #OpenSilicon
Here's a interesting except from a piece by Kalimah Priforce on lack of Blacks and Latinos in Silicon Valley high-tech jobs:
It’s one of the reasons why Blacks in tech would rather participate in a forum like the one gathered by the College Bound Brotherhood than pay attention to another article about why so very few of us exist in the land of innovation, Silicon Valley. Here are five top reasons why I avoid “lack of minorities in tech” articles:
(1) they’re mostly written by non-people of color who are focused on Silicon Valley but don’t live and work in Silicon Valley*
(2) they are written by non-techies, non-builders of technology products and services
(3) they focus on what is wrong with Black people, as if the problem lies with our culture
(4) they typecast Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis as model minorities who don’t have a problem with the status quo
(5) they lack investigative journalism, research, and actually interviewing those of us in the field
However, Giang’s BI article struck a chord because it targeted affinity groups by suggesting that Blacks in tech self-selected segregation, based on Maya Beasley’s Opting Out: Losing The Potential Of American’s Young Black Elite.
Beasley interviews sixty Black and White students and uses her small sample findings to draw a conclusion. It’s a good thing she isn’t in the startup world, because very few of us would get away with validating a business model based on sixty people, but apparently that’s sufficient for a book.
Here’s what Beasley’s work is missing – stepping off the campus and interacting with actual black entrepreneurs in tech. If she did, she’d have learned that most of us didn’t attend the University of California at Berkeley or Stanford. So part of her research is based on assumptions that have no real basis in the industry. She sticks to Cal and Stanford campuses, assuming that they would provide the primary pipeline for Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, and blames African-American students for not doing so. In her words, “Black students need to learn to interact with white people and have some amount of comfort with them and I don’t think that’s asking a lot.”
What I find most disturbing about her conclusions is that she singles out African-Americans when just about every ethnicity has their share of assimilation that is balanced with affinity grouping. When the state of California eliminated affirmative action programs, the number of Black students attending Cal and Stanford dropped. So there aren’t a lot of Black students to begin with. That must be uncomfortable for the many Black students who are just discovering themselves outside the comfort of their homes and backgrounds. There is a great amount of identity formation happening for minority students, but for the straight, privileged White guy, that process isn’t as crucial. He doesn’t have to worry about the words “monkey” written on his dorm door, or date rape, or someone posting a video on YouTube ridiculing his accent when talking to his parents back home.
So Blacks learning from other Blacks, and socializing with other Blacks is important, and perhaps necessary for a healthy sense of self. But according to Beasley, this places Black students at a disadvantage for getting into tech. Has she questioned why the status quo dictates that the gatekeeper for successful entry into tech is how well minorities and women get along with white males? For organizations like Women 2.0 and Girls in Tech, the approach is simple: women must support each other, and united, can shatter the glass ceiling in the tech world. Beasley doesn’t take this approach with Blacks, but rather, makes the claim that an assimilationist approach will create diversity in tech.
Here's Express Tribune on Mir Zafar Ali, Pakistani-American Oscar winner Mir
Richard Parker swims in the Life of Pi ocean. Afterwards, the 10 million hair on the Bengal tiger’s body are wiped down, his fur gradually morphing from dripping wet to dry. In Frozen, we watch the little girl Elsa create snowfall and her enchanting ice world emerge. The line between fantasy and reality blurs, so real are the images. But this much is clear; the artist behind this graphic wizardry deserves the three Oscar awards he has received in six years.
The recognition from the industry for Pakistani visual effects artist, 38-year-old Mir Zafar Ali, has been nothing short of a dream come true. His latest Academy Award, for Frozen, was the first in the animation category for the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The 3D musical fantasy-comedy film is now the highest-grossing animated film in history, beating the Lion King and Toy Story 3. It has also made it to the top 10 biggest films, leaving far behind the likes of Star Wars and the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Ali’s first Oscar came for The Golden Compass in 2008. He recalls the moment as being “very, very surreal.” “My wife Tamanna Shah was working at Paramount Studios at the time and we were invited to one of their Oscar parties. So we’re talking to people, having a good time and then the nomination for the best visual effects category came up and I almost dropped my drink when they announced The Golden Compass as the winner,” he said in a telephone interview with The Express Tribune.
It was a tough competition. They had been up against Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. “It took a good few seconds to sink in,” he recalled.
Ali’s forte is to mainly recreate natural phenomena such as water, fire, destruction and snow as well as visually recreate fantasy. This takes hundreds of hours of reference research, watching footage of natural phenomena such as tsunamis and storms and poring over science papers.
His second Academy Award came last year for the Life of Pi, a movie based on Yann Martel’s acclaimed novel. The Bengal tiger named Richard Parker stars in most sequences, although the real 300-pound tiger was only used when Pi and Richard are not in the same shot. The rest of the scenes consist of computer-generated images that give life to an extremely challenging script. It was in Life of Pi that a real animal and a digital one were used interchangeably for the first time. A team of 15 people were dedicated to creating just the fur by placing and combing all 10 million hair on his body.
But in the United States, even Oscar wins don’t promise job security. After the successes of Life of Pi and The Golden Compass, Ali found himself unemployed for some weeks. “After being in business for well over a decade, the company I worked for, Rhythm & Hues, filed for bankruptcy in 2013,” he said. “That was right after we won the Oscar for Life of Pi. There were major layoffs and I ended up on the chopping block after I wrapped up Percy Jackson 2 in April.”
The layoff came as a near blessing though and a couple of weeks later he was offered a job at Disney where he was assigned Frozen, leading to his second consecutive Oscar win. “The timing worked out perfectly for me.”
Ali grew up in Karachi watching a wide range of films and was particularly interested in science-fiction and fantasy movies. Jurassic Park was his first main inspiration. “It completely blew me away!” he said.
He studied at the BeaconHouse School Systems and always wanted to go to art school. “But back in the day, going to art school wasn’t thought of as a good career move — hell, it’s still not thought of as a good career move,” he admitted. As a result, it took him a while to figure out what he wanted to do..
Like all things apple, the tech giant’s Apple Pay promises to be a game changer. In this case, iPhone users are now able to securely and privately make swipe-free payments at, to begin with, some 220,000 stores in the U.S. using credit and debit card information stored on their devices. One of the seven men behind this bigger-and-better product is Pakistan’s Ahmer Ali Khan.
Khan, 38, hails from Rawalpindi, graduated from the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology—where friends knew him as The Programmer—and moved to Silicon Valley in 2000. He worked a number of short tech gigs until landing his first full-time job at a startup. On his first day there, Khan was asked if he knew the Java computer language. He didn’t. But he was ambitious and determined. “‘I promise I will know it by tomorrow,’” Raza Shaukat Latif, a friend of Khan’s, recalls him as saying at the time. “Sure enough, he bought a book and crammed the entire night.” By morning, Khan knew the language. “That is just how brilliant he is,” Latif told Newsweek. “He has had the tech bug in him for a very long time.”
It was at the now-defunct ViVOtech, a company specializing in Near Field Communication software, that Khan first tried his hand at building a cellphone-based, contactless payment system. In 2011, Apple picked Khan to work on its “top secret” digital payment system aimed at revolutionizing shopping and, potentially, retail banking.
In February, Khan and six other co-inventors filed their patent for what Apple CEO Tim Cook would unveil to the world on Sept. 9 as Apple Pay. It “will forever change the way all of us buy things,” Cook said at the launch in Cupertino of the new technology, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch.
Khan lives in Milpitas, California, with his wife and two children. Citing Apple rules, he declined to comment for this piece.
Apple Pay allows a shopper to simply hold his Apple device, an iPhone or the Apple Watch, which comes out next year, to a contactless reader to make payments, which are confirmed as transmitted through a short vibration or beep. Credit and debit cards can be added to the device’s Passbook app using the phone camera. All transactions are entirely secure and private, says Apple.
“With Apple Pay, instead of using your actual credit and debit card numbers when you add your card, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in iPhone and Apple Watch,” it says. “These numbers are never stored on Apple servers. And when you make a purchase, the Device Account Number alongside a transaction-specific dynamic security code is used to process your payment. So your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared by Apple with merchants or transmitted with payment.”
In case the device is lost or stolen, banking and other information can be deleted remotely.
Google Wallet preceded Apple Pay but failed to take off and replace plastic. Apple’s recent past is a good indication that with Khan and team’s Apple Pay, it will hit pay dirt.
All of us know that the legendary singer and global icon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had composed music for Dead Man Walking, Bone Collector, and Last Temptation of Christ. And we also know that the youth icon Atif Aslam sang for Man Push Cart and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
But do you know of Pakistanis other than Adnan Siddiqui, Faran Tahir and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who made it big in Hollywood? Chances are slim, we bring you 10 unsung heroes who are making Pakistanis across the world proud.
1. Syma Chowdhry
The news reporter in Philadelphia at KYW-TV, initially appeared on MTV’s Rachael Ray Show and Law & Order. She got her big break in 2011 by becoming a news anchor at CBS for the First Forecast Mornings show in Detroit station. She has also participated in a number of beauty pageants and was the 1st runner up in the Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant.
2. Kamran Pasha
The Karachi-born popular screenwriter, director and novelist has written and produced the NBC series Kings. Some of his other works include NBC’s Bionic Woman, The CW’s Nikita, Disney’s Tron: Uprising and Sleeper Cell – nominated for the Golden Globe and Emmy Awards in Best Miniseries category in 2005 and 2006.
3. Iqbal Theba
The actor is known as Principal Figgins in Fox series Glee. He has appeared in 58 episodes throughout the six seasons. He rose to fame after appearing in Friends and Nip/Tuck. He was featured in other famous shows including, The George Carlin Show, Married With Children, ER, Two And A Half Men, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. He was also seen in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
4. Ayad Akhtar
The writer and actor is the proud recipient of 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He has written plays for the stage including Disgraced, The Invisible Hand and The Who and The What. He made his debut as a novelist with American Dervesh in 2012.
5. Mir Zafar Ali
If you have seen The Golden Compass, Spiderman 3, X Men: First Class and Life of Pi, you should feel proud to know that the visual effects were created by none other than a Pakistani specialist.
6. Novaira Masood
The credit of portraying Angelina Jolie as the picture-perfect villain in Malificent goes to none other than software engineer Novaira. She worked with her team to create inimitable special effects. She has also worked on other Hollywood films such as A Christmas Carol, Mars needs Moms, Thor, Transformers 3 and Jack the Giant Slayer.
7. Gabe Grey
Syed Fuad Ahmed — now known as Gabe Grey — was born in Karachi. The 32-year-old actor was seen in The Haircut, One Last Shot and Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy. He has also attended the Model and Talent Search Canada in 2005. He will soon be seen in Deepa Mehta’s directorial Beeba Boys alongside Ali Kazmi.
8. Umar Khan
Umar got his big break by playing the lead role of Robert Martinez in Veracious Perception. He was also seen in the films Miami Heat, The Hitman, The Test, Deliver Us From Evil, Captain America: Civil War, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and District Voices. The Lahore-born actor also possesses martial arts skills.
9. Sadia Shephard
The New York City-based filmmaker and author has written The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors and Lost Loves. She has also produced the documentary The September Issue that featured the making of Vogue. It has won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2009.
10. Sameer Asad Gardezi
The screenwriter has written for some of the popular television series such as Aliens in America, Mr. Sunshine, Outsourced, Save Us, then the Whales and Emmy Award-winning series Modern Family. He has also won an award for his short film Equal Opportunity. Sameer is currently working on Fox’s Goodwin Games.
Meet Sana Amanat, the Shonda Rhimes of #Marvel comics. #Pakistani-#American http://www.vox.com/2015/11/19/9757682/sana-amanat-marvel?utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=feature%3Atop&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter … via @voxdotcom
As a woman and a Pakistani American, Amanat has made it her mission to redefine what is possible for women and people of color in an industry dominated by white men. Through her work as an editor on comic books like Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, and Ms. Marvel, she has helped reimagine what superheroes can be. Last year, the first issue of Ms. Marvel — a series and character that Amanat co-created with editor Steve Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artist Adrian Alphona — went into its seventh printing, a level of success that's extremely rare. Earlier this year, Amanat was introduced to National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates — that initial introduction would later develop into a successful deal orchestrated by editor Will Moss, Marvel's VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort, and Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso to bring Coates to Marvel and write the new Black Panther comic book series.
"My long title of director of content and character development — I always forget it," she tells me about four weeks after New York Comic Con. I've caught her on a busy Monday.
"I still double-check my card and ask, 'What am I?'"
"Just call yourself Ms. Marvel," I joke.
"That's what my nephew calls me. He's 5 now. It's super cute. I think he's kind of messing with me."
He's onto something.
Sana Amanat is the Shonda Rhimes of Marvel comics
There's something poetic about the fact that Amanat is a huge fan of Shonda Rhimes, one of the most powerful showrunners in the television industry and the woman who created the hit shows Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. Rhimes has mastered the art of what Amanat calls the "oh no," the gasp-inducing moments that pepper her sudsy, kinetic dramas. And when you think about it, Rhimes's TV shows, with their hyper swerves and hurtling dialogue, are a bit like live-action comic books.
"You need the 'oh nos.' That's the beauty of serialized storytelling. That's what Shonda does so well," Amanat tells me.
But Amanat and Rhimes have more in common than a love of drama and the utmost respect for Scandal star Kerry Washington. What Rhimes has done for ABC — create great, diverse work that's gone on to inspire more diversity in the network's programming — Amanat is doing for Marvel.
Since her promotion, her editing duties have been streamlined to Captain Marvel, Daredevil and Ms. Marvel, three books she's very passionate about, to make time for an endless array of strategy meetings. Amanat's goal is to determine how Marvel can evolve and make its superheroes more representative and diverse, and then to ensure that it happens. By doing less hands-on editing, she's able to work with the company on a grander scale and across multiple titles.
#Karachi Born #Pakistani-American Comedian Kumail Nanjiani Has Become an Inescapable Creative Force in #Hollywood
Picture your classic Hollywood triple threat. Now, throw it out the window, in the garbage, wherever, and say hello to Kumail Nanjiani—the stand-up comedian who’s redefining what it means to be a modern-day triple threat. Everything about the Silicon Valley star—from his upbringing in Karachi, Pakistan, to his unorthodox love story with now-wife Emily Gordon, which inspired his upcoming film The Big Sick—is intriguing.
In the film, co-written by the couple based heavily on their whirlwind love story, Nanjiani plays a nearly identical version of himself—a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian slash Uber driver who falls for a white woman (played by Zoe Kazan), something his parents are wholly against. Nanjiani keeps the budding romance a secret until a twist of fate comes his way just as the relationship waters get choppy and Emily is placed in a medically induced coma (and yes, that did in fact happen in real life).
See? Not your typical rom-com from a not-so-typical comedian.
When he’s not performing his latest stand-up routine, Nanjiani plays Dinesh on HBO’s tech comedy Silicon Valley and has dipped his toes in the world of podcasting. Now, he can add starring in and writing his first major film, for which Amazon Studios ponied up a whopping $12 million after it screened at Sundance, to his list of accomplishments.
Adweek caught up with Nanjiani, Adweek’s Creative 100 cover star for 2017, at the tail end of the first leg of his current comedy tour with Big Sick co-stars Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler and Ray Romano. He told us about his creative process, starring alongside Snoop Dogg and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in an Old Navy campaign, and what he hopes to accomplish next.
Actor Kumail Nanjiani: 'I feel more #Pakistani than I have in the last 10 years' #SiliconValleyHBO https://usat.ly/2tUlQZg via @usatoday
"I feel way more defined by my ethnicity now," Nanjiani says. "If there's an ethnicity that is maligned and attacked and demonized ... I'm with you. I stand with you. Because it's unavoidable that people are seeing me a certain way, I kind of want to own it. I feel more Pakistani than I have in the last 10 years."
NEW YORK — The Big Sick is not only a uniquely personal love story, but one that's taken on political undertones in the months since President Trump's inauguration.
Co-written by Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the romantic comedy (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expands nationwide July 14) is a lightly fictionalized account of the first year of their relationship, when an unexpected medical crisis landed her in a coma for eight days.
While Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) is in the hospital, Kumail (Nanjiani) gets to know her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who tag along with him to a comedy club one night where he's performing stand-up. When his set is disrupted by a heckler — who yells, "Go back to ISIS!" — Beth vehemently responds by trying to hit the man before she's thrown out.
"In test screenings, which we were doing before the election, (Beth's outburst) just got huge laughs," says Gordon, 38. But at festival screenings ever since Sundance Film Festival, where Sick premiered on Inauguration Day, "it often gets applause breaks, which is interesting."
Adds Nanjiani, 39: "I was very concerned at Sundance, like, 'How is this going to play?' I was just afraid that (scene) was going to be sad, but it isn't. It's joyful, but it's also righteous anger. People clap as if (it's) almost triumphant."
Nanjiani, who appears in HBO's Silicon Valley (Sundays, 10 ET/PT), was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, where he was brought up in a strict Shiite Muslim household. He moved to the USA at 19 to attend Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and started doing stand-up comedy his senior year. But he was wary of incorporating his Pakistani background into his routine, save for his opening line, "Don't worry, I'm one of the good ones."
The Big Sick is funny, sweet, original – so why did it leave me furious?
by Hadley Freeman
Too many romcom (romantic comedy) writers celebrate the power of love to cross boundaries, but end up trashing women from their own culture in the process
I went to the screening with a good friend, a British Pakistani woman, and her face at the end was a mix of weary amusement and intense irritation. It’s an emotion salad I know well, because it’s the same one I have felt after too many romcoms and TV comedies made by Jewish men – the ones which ostensibly celebrate the power of love to cross boundaries, but end up trashing women from their own culture in the process.
A running theme in The Big Sick is Nanjiani’s resistance to an arranged marriage, which is a perfectly reasonable position. What is less reasonable is the way all the Pakistani women his parents introduce him to are portrayed as pitiable, interchangeable and wholly conventional, even when they have lived in the US longer than Kumail, who was born in Pakistan. The only one who has potential is played by Vella Lovell, who isn’t even Pakistani but of mixed black and white descent. It’s as if the movie can’t imagine Kumail fancying a Pakistani woman, even in a fictional setting.
Nanjiani has said that the relationship between Kumail’s on-screen brother, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and his Pakistani wife present a positive portrayal of an Asian man in a relationship with an Asian woman, but this is disingenuous. Naveed and his wife are depicted as retrograde and dopey; the best Naveed can say about his wife is that she is his “best friend”, which, compared to the hot sexy time Kumail has with white women, sounds pretty dull. The message is clear: to marry a Pakistani woman would, for Kumail, be a surrender, a backwards step.
Jewish women are used to this schtick, thanks to the many, many love stories in which Jewish men are portrayed as exotically desirable while blond non-Jewish women represent the romantic ideal. Woody Allen and, latterly, Judd Apatow have both worked in this vein for decades, and it has long been implied in movies starring Jewish comedians such as Ben Stiller (Meet The Parents) and Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer). Jewish women are represented as nasal, nagging or simply non-existent – someone to move on from as quickly as possible. In the early seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s clearly not-Jewish wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) is contrasted favourably with David’s manager Jeff’s wife, Susie (Susie Essman), who clearly is. As the critic Liel Leibovitz wrote in a 2009 essay on this subject, the modern romcom makes it the role of “the non-Jewish woman – a goddess, after all – to extricate her Jewish lover from his suffocating, crass and unhealthy environment and introduce him to her clean, well-lit world”.
American-Indian comedian Hasan Minhaj touches on this trope in his new standup special, Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, in which he self-mockingly recounts his teenage hope that he’d be saved by “my white princess”. After Aziz Ansari was criticised for omitting Asian women from the first series of Master Of None, he is shown dating two in the second series, and they are – unlike in The Big Sick – modern and desirable (although he still ends up pining for a quirky white woman).
"An informed racist is a better racist" - a typically brilliant and hilarious #SNL opening monologue from @kumailn
In his monologue, this week’s host, Kumail Nanjiani—star of Silicon Valley and The Big Sick—tackled some of the more disturbing cultural trends tied to the racism he’s experienced first-hand.
“Islamophobia is on the rise. It’s like Will & Grace,” Nanjiani joked in reference to the sitcom making a return on S.N.L.’s home network. “It was huge awhile ago, we thought it was gone and done forever and now it’s back! Thursday night on NBC. . .they made me say that.”
“Inaccuracies,” Najiani continued, “That’s what bugs me.” The Pakistani-born comedian enumerated all the times he’s been told to “go back to India.” If someone bothered to tell him to go back to Pakistan, he claimed, “I’d pack my bags.”
“An informed racist,” Nanjiani concluded, “is a better racist.”
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