The dust has settled, and NBC made history on Thursday night when Outsourced debuted as the first American sitcom on prime-time network television to feature a predominantly South Asian cast. Part of NBC’s Fall Lineup on Thursday evenings at 9:30 p.m. and produced by Universal Media Studios and In Cahoots Productions, several people of Indian descent were involved with the development of Outsourced, including the brother-sister team of writer Amit Bhalla and first assistant director Sonia Bhalla.
Starring Ben Rappaport, Rizwan Manji, Sacha Dhawan, Rebecca Hazelwood, Parvesh Cheena, and Anisha Nagarajan, the television adaptation of Outsourced -- which was an independently released film in 2006 -- also featured several other writers and even had another first assistant director working side-by-side with Sonia. Collectively, everyone involved put a lot of energy into making Outsourced a genuine comedy about the daily grinds of office life with a cultural twist.
Sonia herself was associated with Outsourced since March, when she sought to get back into television after working as the second assistant director on Up in the Air. With television shows such as Christina Applegate’s Samantha Who and Rosanna Arquette’s What About Brian already under her belt, Sonia was looking forward to working on a television pilot closer to her ethnic roots.
“I loved the potrayal of India. It was funny; I loved the characters. I read tons of pilots, including Outsourced. Just reading the pilot alone, I really wanted to be a part of it,” she excitedly told Buzzine hours before the show’s debut. “I can’t even tell you how exciting it is.”
Specifically, she was looking forward to helping increase audience awareness of a whole new world most Americans may not even be aware of.
“I've been looking for Indian characters to bring to life and bring to other people’s living rooms. When I saw what they did with the pilots, the colors are amazing. There was so much research to make it as authentic as possible,” Sonia said of Outsourced and its unique sets depicting the thoroughfare culture and street commoner lifestyle. “In second grade, I changed my name to Donna Debbie, but as I got older and agreed to embrace the Indian culture and I matured, to see it come alive as a show, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Her younger brother, Amit, who served as one of the show’s writers, chimed in about the show’s cultural authenticity, but disclaimed it would be a mistake to consider Outsourced a sitcom about life as an Indian in India. Instead, he point out that the 13 episodes focus more on humorous happenings in office culture -- events occurring in our daily work lives that are universally funny but just happen to take place in India. Accordingly, the cultural differences between White America and the Indian subcontinent are only meant to enhance the comedy, not be it.
“There is a nice blend of authenticity with the writers and with production. The production team gets with the nitty gritty with everything after the writers get into it. The story is told from an office point of view,” Amit told Buzzine. “Each character has something relatable about them. The managers, the co-workers, various love interests -- you have all of the characters everyday in the office, and it’s taking place in a completely different setting.”
Amit, who studied screenwriting and economics at the University of Michigan before heading west for graduate film studies at the University of Southern California, said those who think Outsourced is playing upon ignorant stereotypes of life in India are missing the point.
“I really think, once people tune in, they will see what the show is about,” he candidly opined. “They will see the relationships in the office, and it is highly relatable for day-to-day experiences.”
Older sister Sonia offered a similar yet different perspective, adding stereotypes exist everywhere and it is important to get past them and instead focus on the spirit of the story instead of the negative affects of humorous banter.
There are stereotypes everywhere on every person. There are stereotypes on every level. There are office stereotypes too, and they are universal to every culture,” she thoughtfully told Buzzine. “With technology, we can talk to anyone in the world, but we don’t really know about people’s lives. I think this show gives us a view of what life is like in India of people of a certain age. To show the differences are very enlightening. Forget the stereotypes. We are trying to break those down. It’s about learning about what life is like elsewhere.”
Her younger brother, Amit, countered with his hopes of what Outsourced will mean for the future of creative talent of South Asian decent. He pointed out that Indians, and South Asians in general, are a very artistic people, and it is only fitting for talent from the world’s largest democracy to have an established presence in Hollywood.
“I hope it paves the way. There is a very rich culture of film and television in India,” Amit pondered. “There is a very talented and rich storytelling community there, and I hope it paves the way for (them) to come out here and give it a shot.”
Conversely, Sonia -- who took pride in how authentic the sets were in representing the streets of metropolitan India, and was thrilled everyone positively acquired the taste of a favorite pastime in eating paan -- added that Outsourced is but a glimpse of life in India, and American audiences should avoid thinking of the show’s premise as a representation of how Indians live.
“We tried to make it as true as possible. This is a little trip to India without the passport,” she enthusiastically said.
With the first episode now in the books, hopefully Outsourced will bring enough ratings to prevent NBC from stopping Sonia, Amit, and the rest of the crew from packing their respective suitcases and leaving the studio lot earlier than planned.
Outsourced airs on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. Mountain) on the peacock network.