If you just finished streaming your favorite series on Netflix and are looking for something exciting to fill the void, “Brown Nation,” a satirical comedy full of heart and laughs about the lives of Indian Americans, may just be the one.
Starring actor-comedian Omi Vaidya (“3 Idiots”), Melanie Chandra, (“Code Black”), Shenaz Treasurywala (“Delhi Belly”) and New York-based theater artist Rajeev Varma, among other talented cast members, the series, with a relatable storyline and witty dialogues, will see its world premiere on Netflix Nov. 15.
A 10-part Season 1 of “Brown Nation” whirls around the everyday life of Hasmukh, a hilarious character who is dealing with a failing IT company in Queens, New York. Other than holding his dysfunctional office together, Hasmukh also has to navigate various personal relationships: with his struggling artist wife, live-in father-in-law and a dog.
Indian American filmmaker Abe Varghese, who co-wrote “Brown Nation” with Matt Grubb and George Kanatt, has also directed the series, which mirrors real-life situations and fictionalizes some in equal measure.
“The show is about the daily quirkiness that we have,” Varghese told India-West. “You know, issues like marriage, five-year anniversary, little things like slices of life. We have tried to incorporate a lot of that which will be relatable to the major audiences.”
In an attempt to reignite his business, Hasmukh brings in Balan Shri Ramakrishnan from India, played by the ubiquitous comic actor Vaidya.
“I wanted to do something different and Abi approached me with this role of Balan,” Vaidya told India-West. “He is really terrible at English, and he tries to communicate, but he struggles. He is dimwitted but he has a very warm heart.”
“Hasmukh wanted a South Indian guy, since he has a theory that they are smarter. So he brings in Balan, and he turns out to be the opposite,” Varghese added.
The premise of the first episode, titled, “Farewell Papaji,” is: Grandparents from India are coming to the U.S to stay with their daughter’s family. That day, they find out their grandson is gay and have difficulty dealing with it.
Vaidya said he had never played a character like Balan before but asserted that it is a likeable character. “It’s really hard to play a dumb guy smartly,” he stated. “You don’t know what’s going to come out of this guy’s mouth half the time. Abi allowed me the freedom to do a lot of improv and I feel it’s definitely a memorable character.”
Vaidya admitted that while he was attracted to the production design, the style of comedy of the sitcom, along with his cute lovable character, he was still a bit apprehensive prior to joining the cast. His dilemma was it may be too Indian for a network in America and a bit too international for an Indian channel.
“This was a new project in English about a bunch of South Asians and international people,” Vaidya explained to India-West. “I was like, where is it going to go? I have never seen a market for something like this.”
Echoing similar thoughts, Varghese said, “Initially we had difficulty knowing where is the audience. We didn’t know if it was a Star Plus show.”
Netflix, which is building a truly global network, finally came around, the duo said. “They are really trying to capture the global audience and this is a global product. It is about all sorts of different people in an international city of New York. It very timely and its very funny,” asserted Vaidya.
Varghese went on to say, “Netflix, I think, is the right audience for it since it is for younger generation. People who are able to understand English but who have grown up watching ‘The Office’ and ‘Modern Family’ and all that.”
Lauding Varghese for his attention to detail, Vaidya said, “Abi comes from a corporate background originally, so he put a lot of that sort of comedy of working in a corporate environment into the show.”
Varghese, who in the past has chronicled the lives of a middle-class Malayali family settled in the U.S. in the Malayalam sitcom “Akkara Kazhchakal,” which aired on Kairali TV from 2008 to 2010, also directed the Vijay Raaz and Fahadh Faasil-starrer Malayalam film, “Monsoon Mangoes.”
Creative freedom drew Varghese back to TV, he said. “After ‘Monsoon Mangoes,’ I decided to come back to a TV sitcom because I enjoy it. It is also a little bit more relaxing on set as you get to explore the characters a bit more,” Varghese told India-West. “There is also a lot of room for improvement within the set itself, something that we would not be able to do in the writing plan.”
For “Brown Nation,” he said he and some of his friends created three pilot episodes back in 2013. The episodes stirred a lot of interest among those who watched them, so he decided to take it up a notch. The pre-production work, which lasted three months, began in late 2014, he said, adding that it took another three months to finalize the cast. The total shoot time of all the ten episodes was 30 days.
It is often said that comedy is harder than drama, and Vaidya, known for his impeccable comic timing, seconds that notion.
“In comedy television you are finding the funny, and to find the funny you have to be aware of what is going on in the scene. How they are shooting it? What is the crux of the scene? How you can add to it? What takes away from the crux?” he told India-West. “It’s like you are creating a symphony and you are the violinist. You want to add the right notes that makes everything sounds better. But if you add a bit too much then you take away from everyone else. Maybe you look good but everything else suffers. It’s a delicate balance.”
Vaidya said he approached this role without expectations, but stressed that even as a comic actor he keeps his serious side on camera.
“Even though people know me as a comedian I take my work quite seriously in every scene,” the Indian American actor said. “Every time I was talking or adding or changing something, I would always try to make it for the benefit of the scene. I would try to find something new, something special in the character.”