My day job allows me to meet and chat with politicians, musicians, artists, newsmakers and on rare occasions, an odd criminal or two.
I have had my share of interactions with jerks that lug around a sense of entitlement like dandruff on black shirts, to ego-less entities with absolutely no trace of arrogance.
Kunal Nayyar, 33, definitely falls into the latter category.
Some weeks ago, when I sat down with the rising stars of Dr. Cabbie, a Canadian movie with liberal dose of Bollywood, I was naturally excited to snag one: one interviews with the movie’s three actors — Kunal, Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani.
As an avid fan of Big Bang Theory, I wanted to meet Kunal, aka Rajesh Kootrapalli, so I could tell him his portrayal as a socially awkward nerd in the CBS sitcom elevates the show’s comedy metre to lofty levels each week. The meeting/interview also gave me exclusive bragging rights in the newsroom where every single reporter/editor and photographer is a die-hard fan of Kunal and BBT.
Kunal enjoys mega celebrity status here and elsewhere. Canadians love him and his show. Who hasn’t chuckled at Raj’s antics, especially the hilarious side effects of his selective mutism, an anxiety disorder, because of which his character can’t talk to women unless he’s all liquored up.
So, coming back to the media launch of Dr.Cabbie, I reached the downtown hotel 35 minutes before the appointed hour, but there may have been few no-shows from some news outlets, so my interview was moved up. Before I could collect my wits or gather my notes, I was facing Kunal who despite his exhausting schedule, greeted me with a real smile (the kind that reaches the eye) and introduced himself.
He was the real deal. He answered questions I threw at him with sincerity and self-deprecating humour. A few moments into the talk, It became pretty evident that Kunal doesn’t lug “star” baggage. He had no airs.
Here’s the interview Toronto Desi Diaries (TDD) had with the Big Bang Theory star. Kunal spoke about his role in Dr. Cabbie and briefly, just so briefly, touched upon Canada’s immigration system. So, I suggest y’all brew a cuppa, sit back and read on.
TDD: Did you say “yes” to Dr. Cabbie because your character was the opposite of Raj in Big Bang Theory?
KN: I love playing Raj on Big Bang, It’s a dream come true for me to be on the show. So, when I had time off in the summer and I was looking at movies, the script (Dr. Cabbie) came up on my agent’s desk. One of the things I have been telling everybody is: I want to play a character that’s different from Raj because I am a trained actor and I thought it would be fun to spread my wings and show the world I have many different facets.
So, it was fun to play a cab driver whose centre of gravity is way down. Someone who heckles women and shows-off his chest hair, drinks, eats and lives life with reckless abandon.
TDD: Was it a challenge…?
KN: Every summer, when we get to the first table read (for Big Bang), I always worry I have forgotten how to act. I think every actor goes through that. You are sitting there wondering, “Hope, I haven’t forgotten to be funny.”
The truth is: The writing is so good that as soon as you begin to say the words, it flows into you. The writing — for eight seasons of Big Bang has been consistent — and that’s so rare.
TDD: How was your experience in Dr. Cabbie different from that of the Big Bang Theory in terms of the set?
KN: For Big Bang, we shoot in front of a live studio audience in the Warner Brothers Studio. All the sets are built on the stage. With Dr. Cabbie, we shot a lot of stuff all over Toronto. So, it was fun because we would be driving along the streets in this cab with a camera on us shooting a scene and people would wave at us. In Big Bang, you were in a closed environment whereas in Dr. Cabbie we were exposed to the elements and the cities of Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.
TDD: The film showcases the immigrant experience, were you able to identify with the struggles of the characters?
KN: I have lived the immigrant story. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18.
Will the movie deter people from filing their papers to Canada? I am not sure. I hope what people actually take away from this movie is: things don’t always go according to plan in life. They don’t. Life takes a U turn. There’s no blueprint or secret formula. Stuff happens and ultimately, it’s about how you pick-up and move on. One has to live life with a big heart and be willing to do anything to realize their dreams…
TDD: How’s your family reacting to your venture into films?
KN: My family is very proud. It’s very easy to become complacent in this industry. I never want to be a victim of that. I want to work as hard as I can and do as much as I can.
Next up: Toronto Desi Diaries’ up, close and personal meetings with the other two cast members of Dr. Cabbie —Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani and my chat with a real-life Dr. Cabbie/trucker – Dr. Balvinder Singh.