Omi Vaidya shot to fame as the South Indian stereotype Chatur Ramalingam, aka The Silencer, in Rajkumar Hirani’s hit comedy 3 Idiots (2009). But the Indian-American actor is done with what he calls the “Chatur minus roles”. Vaidya, who stars in Eros Now’s slice-of-life comedy web series Metro Park, keeps his eyes peeled for culturally sensitive roles that challenge him.
“I have been offered many Chatur-minus roles with large payouts, but there is no challenge there and there is nothing to seize on,” he told Scroll.in. In Metro Park, Vaidya plays Kannan, a stressful expectant father who lives in New Jersey in the United States, which is home to a large Indian community.
The show, which also stars Ranvir Shorey, Pitobash, Purbi Joshi and Vega Tamotia, has been written by Ajayan Venugopalan and directed by Abi Varghese. While the series is about Indians living in the United States, it will resonate among Indians across the world, Vaidya said. The series is available for streaming on Eros Now from March 3.
The comedy follows an immigrant Gujarati immigrant that lives in the Indian neighbourhood Metropark. “It is a show about how these people live and survive in a world that is American but also very Indian,” Vaidya explained. “Some of them have been forced to live there. The kids are learning their own identities and also get attracted to the Westernised culture.”
Improvisation is key for Vaidya’s character, who is “a fish out of the water”, Vaidya added. “Kannan comes to America following his American dream,” he added. “He is willing to assimilate. He is quite lovable. And it’s me, so you are going to laugh. He is also going to be a new father. That is one of the most stressful pangs in your life, other than when your kid is born, which is even more stressful.”
Before 3 Idiots, Vaidya starred in the shows shows Arrested Development and The Office. In the latter series, he played Sadiq, a Sikh information technology professional with a Muslim name. Most American shows back then were poorly researched, he pointed out.
“I had qualms with the Muslim thing and with the beard [in The Office episodes],” Vaidya said. “If they had booked me a week ago, I could have grown out a little beard. I had issues with that. Like any actor who is struggling, there is only so much you can do. Shows should have cultural sensitivity. That is the same in India. Even if we are making jokes about Gujaratis, let us at least get the character right.”
The uptick in South Asian talent in the American entertainment industry, including the likes of Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani and Priyanka Chopra, has ensured that characters are etched with better sensitivity, Vaidya observed. “The roles have changed now and culturally sensitive,” he said. “There are so many Indian people on TV now. There is almost one Indian person on every show now, which is great. When you have an Indian character today, show are now finding out information about them.”
South Asian actors were typically offered stereotyped roles such as taxi drivers or convenience store owners, but this has since changed, Vaidya added. “Now, we are shown with a little more honesty,” he said. “Taxi drivers are now Uber drivers and they are not Indian anymore. We have a lot of them playing doctors. Shows like Sarayu Blue’s I Feel Bad are completely different. There are always experiments.”
Vaidya has had a mixed journey in Hindi films. His credits include Jodi Breakers (2012) and Blackmail (2018). He is consciously looking for characters that suit him best.
“In my earlier days, I would just take up anything because I just wanted to work,” he said. “Then you start saying yes to anything with money. And then you get to a place where money does not have as much value anymore and you just want to do good work. That is where I have gotten, hopefully.”
Does that mean more Indian films? “I am definitely looking for more Indian roles,” Vaidya said. “I wish people [in India] would approach me more. Every time I go to Metropark, people ask me why they don’t see me more. Whenever you do see me every one or two years, you hopefully see the work that I have put in.”