Apu Nahasapeemapetilon: the most hated Indian in America, or is he?

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NEW YORK – That desi deli store owner, that cabbie, that Patel Brothers employee, that aunty and uncle who you see every week at the temple, well, yes, your dad and mom too; what do they all have in common in America? An accent!

To be more precise, that lilting, twisty-turny, bordering on the indecipherable, sometimes salacious (if you’re not listening with rapt attention, and words get shockingly distorted), always with a smug punch-line and ‘I told you wiseass’ kind of English accent, made endearingly famous by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, on the TV show ‘The Simpsons’.

Apu, as he’s called on the show, is undoubtedly the most famous Indian in America, for the past 28 years, and still going strong.

But, not all may agree that Apu is a lovable character, or a hero, especially Indian Americans who have been taunted, teased, stereotyped in school, or public, termed ‘Apu’ in a derogatory manner by classmates, strangers, or friends.

Now, dissecting Apu in a documentary, narrating its downside, is strangely enough, a well-known Indian American comedian: Hari Kondabolu. ‘The Problem With Apu’ with Kondabolu helming it, will air on TruTV this fall.

It’s impossible to go to any of the Indian American standup shows, and not hear during the course of the act, a few lines spoken in true Apu style. It’s the one mantra for sure shot laughs, not just with the White folks in the audience, but everybody, with Indians found rollicking in their seats the most. It’s touting racism in a benign, cuddly, warm ambience-kind of way; like White and Brown racists poking good humored fun at each other, having lived together in a hut for three decades.

A teaser trailer for the documentary on Apu shows Kondabolu interviewing several other actors and standups – including Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Sakina Jaffrey, among others – on their views on Apu.

It becomes clear from the trailer that trauma from watching ‘The Simpsons’ run deep; these desi comedians, despite making their millions making others laugh, find only distress, no humor in Apu; truly abhor the Indian store-owner who epitomizes the quaint ‘fresh off the boat’ (FoB) tagline for Indian students in America.

Kondabolu’s documentary seeks to question the reasoning and the rationale behind the character of Apu: “How this controversial caricature was created, burrowed its away into the hearts and minds of Americans and continues to exist”, as he puts it.

“I hate Apu and because of that I dislike the Simpsons,” says Penn, who played a quirly but lovable Indian American character himself in the hit comedy ‘Harold and Kumar’ films.

Dana Gould, the former writer and co-executive producer for The Simpsons, told Kondabolu of the character, given a voiceover by a White artist Hank Azaria, “There are accents that by their nature to white-Americans sound funny, period.”

Kondabolu had this line to surmise his view of ‘The Simpsons’: “It’s funny because it’s racist.”

For Indian American actors, the grouse against Apu is also that more often than not, in auditions, they find out that they are expected to play a character like a cabbie, or a deli owner, or a doctor, all with of course, a typical Apu accent, that will immediately make the audience feel acquainted with him.

Speaking of standups, a group of Indian Americans comedians under an organization called American Born Desi Comics (ABDCs), comprising of Akaash Singh, Alingon Mitra, KC Arora, and Tushar Singh, will perform at Carolines on Broadway to celebrate India’s 70th Independence Day, on August 15th.

“We think it’s a notable story since, not only is this the first time an all South Asian American lineup will be performing at the club for India’s Independence Day, but it also highlights how first generation Indians are having an impact on the art and comedy world,” Mitra, who has performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, Last Comic Standing and has written for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, explained of the act.

And speaking of documentaries, there’s one coming soon from an Indian American writer and director that’s not going to make anybody laugh, will instead make a good swath of the American population grimace.

Dinesh D’Souza, whose new book, ‘The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left’ was published last week, is planning to turn it into a documentary next year, with the purpose of examining the term “fascism” from the perspective of the conservatives, and putting the blame squarely on the liberals.

D’Souza is no stranger to turning the screws on Democrats, who squirm every time he announces a new book or film. Not only does it churn money for him, his projects have lasting political repercussions and impact. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, D’Souza declared candidly that he played a prominent part in catapulting Donald Trump to the White House, with his documentary on Hillary Clinton.

D’Souza’s debut documentary ‘2016: Obama’s America’ earned an astonishing $33.4 million in the US, following which he made two other hit documentaries ‘America: Imagine a World Without Her’, which raked $14.4 million, and ‘Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party’, which notched $13.1 million.

D’Souza had this to say on Fox News, about his new documentary, being planned for release next summer: “Well, the book uncovers a sort of secret history between fascism and the Democratic Party and the left. This is important because, as you know, fascism is now the card that is played by the left against [President Donald] Trump. Trump is a fascist, Republicans are the party of fascism. I show that the opposite is true. Fascism has always been on the left. I also point out three ideas that Hitler got, very destructive, genocidal ideas from the Democratic Party. So, one of them you mentioned, Hitler is sitting in Landsberg Prison and he’s frustrated because the British and the French have conquered large parts of Asia and Africa, and Hitler goes, “There’s nothing left for us.” And then he says, “Wait a minute, in America, the Jacksonian Democrats drove the American Indians off their land, dispossessed them, enslaved them.” He goes, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to throw the Poles, the Slavs, the eastern Europeans, the Russians off their land. We’ll resettle it with German families. If any of those guys remain we’ll enslave them.” So, Hitler got his blueprint for European, you may say conquest, in Europe directly from the Jacksonian Democrats.”

 

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