Kunal Nayyar on Being The Man In The Middle | Verve Magazine
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May 05, 2016

Kunal Nayyar on Being The Man In The Middle

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

The Big Bang Theory actor talks about his Indian roots, comic timing and feeling like an underdog

Shy, innocent and awkward around girls, Rajesh ‘Raj’ Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory held his own amongst the ensemble cast. Unabashedly Indian, Kunal Nayyar created the unforgettable small-screen alter ego whose comic timing made a big impact. In an interaction with Verve, the actor says, “I have a lot in common with Raj. Like him, I have this innate ability to view the world through innocent eyes. I’m like a big kid, sometimes to a fault. I am incredibly blessed to be an artiste who gets paid to make people laugh and to bring joy and happiness into their homes. I hope it never ends.”

On his recent offering, the actor states, “Yes, My Accent Is Real… is quite deep. I obviously didn’t want the book to be a self-therapy session. But it was important for me to share a side of the journey that was unglamorous. The general perception around Hollywood is that it is this perfect place with rich people and tanned bodies, fast cars and movie premieres. And, sometimes it can be that, but under all that materialism lies a strong and diverse heartbeat. I wanted to humanise the experience.”

Nayyar believes that as more Indians became visible in American society — in varied fields like business, medicine or even hospitality — it was only a matter of time before Hollywood caught up. He emphasises, “It is lovely to see the surge of Indian characters on American television. I wear my culture very proudly on my sleeve. I am proud to be an Indian. It did set me apart in an advantageous way for Big Bang…obviously, although, in other instances it has also set me apart to my disadvantage.”

Nayyar owes his comic timing to his upbringing. He says, “I grew up in a very quick-witted family. So if you didn’t have a clever rebuttal you would get buried alive. Is it easy though? Not sure. I think if you want to be good at comedy you have to be willing to also fall flat on your face. Let the jokes fly, not all of them will stick.”

As an actor, Nayyar is worried that everyone will wake up one morning and realise that he has no idea about what he is doing, or the fact that he will have forgotten how to get up on the stage and perform. He maintains, “Being an actor is not easy. Being successful in any industry is tough if you come to think of it. I happen to work in an incredibly competitive one, and the more time I think about words like ‘stereotyping’, the less I’m thinking about my ultimate goal…which is to be the best actor I can possibly be. Everyone has a different definition of typecasting — I prefer showing up on time and doing my job impeccably rather than getting involved in discussions that have nothing to do with anything.”

His first move from India to Portland had thrown up its own challenges. Although he felt it was exciting being away from home on a new adventure, Nayyar states, “It just took time. Being lonely wasn’t always a bad thing, because I enjoyed spending time with myself. It was almost like starting over after high school, and I relished the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds. Also in Portland, in the summer, girls would sunbathe on the college lawn in bikinis and I liked that part. I was 18, give me a break!”

The maverick continues, “I’ve always felt like an underdog. But that is more self-inflicted than anything. The more I feel like I have something to prove, the harder the motor keeps running. Oh god, I sound like a Hallmark card.”

Having once said, ‘I’m this world citizen stuck in the middle’, Nayyar adds, “I am not Indian enough to be Indian, not American enough to be American and not British enough to be British. It’s like being a child of nowhere. That said, my heart belongs to India. I’ll always be a Delhi boy.”

On the personal front, the actor has met his match in former Miss India Neha Kapur. Nayyar says in his typical vein, “We make each other laugh. Marriage is not easy, life is not easy, and so it’s better to go through the ups and downs with laughter as an aid. Also we are both obsessive dog lovers.”

The actor who was has also worked on the show Just for Laughs: A Tribute to Nerds, the film Ice Age: Continental Drift and an off-Broadway production, The Spoils, cherishes any acting opportunity — big or small — but he had to turn down an Aamir Khan-starrer for The Big Bang Theory. Nayyar points out, “I did not turn it down. The dates were conflicting. But everything happens for a reason, and I am still young. Hopefully I will have more opportunities to work with Aamir in the future.”

What next? “I’m putting a lot of my focus into finding the right project in Hindi for me to star in. And if I can’t find one, then I will write one…unless you have a script waiting for me?”

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