‘Brown Nation’ brings quirky Indian-American comedy to Netflix

In 2007, director-screenwriter Abi Varghese spent his weekends brainstorming with friends for a possible sitcom that would chronicle some of their shared experiences growing up as an Indian in America.

“We were doing this from our parents’ living room and we were really starting out and trying to figure out how to tell a story [with] not a lot of budget,” Varghese told NBC News.

These conversations ultimately became the inspiration for “Akkara Kazhchakala Malayalam sitcom that landed a 30-minute slot on an Indian TV channel for several seasons.

“It really took off after we got it on air and on YouTube and it kickstarted our career because it went viral and everyone was talking about it, Varghese said.

After receiving positive feedback for the series (and millions of hits on YouTube), Varghese and his colleagues turned their attention to launching a new comedy series that would appeal to a wider audience.

brown nationwhich was released on Netflix on November 15, 2016, focuses on the story of Hasmukh (played by Rajeev Varma) – the owner of a computer consulting company, Shree Ganesh Computers Limited Inc.

“I think the fact that Netflix and other platforms are open to such content is a great sign that we’re moving in the right direction and in terms of diversity, and also as an independent filmmaker, I think that’s good on both sides.”

Hasmukh tries to balance work-life issues in Queens, New York, while keeping the romance alive with his artist-actress wife, Dimple (played by Shenaz Treasuryvala), and living under the same roof as his stepfather. , Papaji (Kapil Bawa).

For much of the series, Hasmukh is the source of Papaji’s stress (Papaji’s heart monitor almost always beeps as soon as Hasmukh enters the room).

Some of the early scenes in the series focus on the problems of newlyweds and dealing with in-laws, as well as the day-to-day challenges of running a small business (training new hires and transforming the office during shifts). a videoconference to ensure that the company appears “American”).

The 10-episode comedy-drama touches on arranged marriage lightly, but tries not to focus too much on the subject, as it’s a topic that’s been exaggerated, according to Varghese.

Dimple (played by Shenaz Treasuryvala), Hasmukh (played by Rajeev Varma) and Papaji (played by Kapil Bawa) in an image from “Brown Nation”Photo by Abi Varghese/Brown Nation

“We wanted to focus on other things that weren’t talked about,” he said. “One of them was Hasmukh going on a spiritual quest and the relationship between going from a peanut business to an IT business… There are a lot of entrepreneurs who are taking their old businesses and reorganize.”

During the writing process, the team didn’t seek to do anything groundbreaking or make big statements, Varghese said. Rather, the series was an opportunity to bring 22 minutes of entertaining, relatable comedy to the world. The team was also careful not to exaggerate or portray the show’s characters in an unrealistic way.

“We never wanted to become caricatures. Every time we write an episode, we try to make sure there’s some level of truth in it,” Varghese said. “We try to make the characters more quirky, but the situations are still true to real life.”

Varghese calls “Brown Nation” a mix between “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Office”. The series features a cast of Bollywood and Hollywood actors, including Omi Vaidya (from Bollywood movie “3 Idiots”), Kapil Bawa, Melanie Chandra (“Code Black”), Jonathan Horvath and others.

“When we got into the casting aspect, we tried to get as many different and different actors to play in order to mix up the timing of the comic,” Varghese said.

At times, Varghese wasn’t sure how well the series would be received or if the jokes would fall flat. In the editing room, the “Brown Nation” team went back and forth over whether to omit or keep certain scenes intended for an Indian audience.

“When we started, we didn’t know who the audience would be: an American or an Indian audience? says Varghese. “There are a lot of jokes that are very specific to India and then there are jokes that are very specific to America and we wanted to mix that up so that even if you don’t understand the jokes you’ll get the reverse.”

While Netflix greenlighted 10 episodes of independent production, the series was a tough pitch for other platforms, according to Varghese.

He and his team first started pitching “Brown Nation” to mainstream Indian platforms such as Star India and Zee TV, but hit dead ends once they realized the networks were looking for a soap opera. Indian.

“It’s not American, it’s not Indian. It’s kind of stuck in between,” he said. “That’s when we saw that Netflix was opening up to India and other parts of the world and we pitched it and they seemed interested.”

It took about four to five months to write “Brown Nation,” followed by 30 days of filming the series in 2014 in Queens, Brooklyn and New Brunswick, Varghese said.

“We never wanted to become caricatures. Every time we write an episode, we try to make sure it contains some level of truth.

Netflix picking up the series is a sign of hope for independent filmmakers and another step in bringing a variety of diverse content to audiences, according to Varghese.

“It’s still an independent production and that’s what I’m most proud of…it really opens doors for a lot of independent filmmakers,” he said. “I think the fact that Netflix and other platforms are open to such content is a great sign that we’re moving in the right direction and in terms of diversity, and also as an independent filmmaker, I think that’s good on both sides.”

Varghese noted that series like “The Mindy Project” and “Master of None” have paved the way for South Asian representation immensely, but while there is progress, there are more stories to tell.

“Our show is a bit more quirky, I don’t think it’s as dramatic as the other two shows, but I think there’s a lot more stories we can explore,” Varghese said.

Left to right: “Brown Nation” cast members Sana Serrai, Remy Munasifi, Shenaz Treasuryvala and Rajeev VarmaPhoto by Abi Varghese/Brown Nation

Varghese is hoping for a second season of “Brown Nation,” but for now he’s focusing his efforts on another series called “Metropark.” He hopes to wait for “Brown Nation” and take a closer look at the kind of feedback the show is getting to see if there’s enough substance for another season.

“I just want to make sure that people, when they hear ‘Brown Nation’, get a smile out of it…I’m just trying to do 22 minutes that would put a smile on people’s faces after a tough day or something. that you can watch with your family that doesn’t have sexual innuendo or fights. Just plain, simple, comedy,” Varghese said.

Follow NBC Asian America on Facebook, Twitter, instagram, and tumblr.

Previous Native American comedy showcase gives native actors a chance to be funny
Next How Rough House Pictures is reshaping American comedy