12.13.2011

The Big Bang Theory: Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali

I’ve enjoyed watching The Big Bang Theory since the very beginning, although with the distinct lack of melanin on the show, I sometimes wonder why.  

When I first started watching the show five seasons ago, I fully expected a Friends-like sea of whiteness—which I got—but was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the main geeks is a POC. A PhD from India, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is not only the most self-sufficient one out of the bunch, but the most attractive as well.  The showrunners try their damndest to make him as unattractive as possible via mismatched patterns, slightly stooped shoulders and a nondescript non-hairstyle, but it doesn’t really work.  He's a good-looking man, and it'll take a lot more than a horrible wardrobe to hide it.

Unfortunately, as much as I look forward to seeing Raj on my screen every week, his characterization leaves a whole hell of a lot to be desired.

Character Pros

1. Not only is Raj a geek (a definite plus in my book), he’s a hot geek.

2. Raj is a brilliant astrophysicist. He can easily hold his own against fellow geek Sheldon Cooper’s super-sized brain and even bigger ego.

3. Raj’s family is extremely wealthy.  Or as Sheldon puts it in nerd-speak “halfway between Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck" (which would put the Koothrappali's roughly at number four on The Forbes Fictional 15 list). Using this as a guide, we can surmise that Raj's family is worth approximately $10 billion dollars.

4. Raj’s parents don't play the white worship game. They're very vocal in their desire for him to settle down with a nice Indian girl, sooner rather than later.  Raj’s sister Priya (who is dating main geek Leonard Hofstadter), hid her relationship from them for months because she knew that they wouldn't approve.

5. Despite putting up with borderline racist remarks by best friend Howard Wolowitz, Raj has thrown out a number of “white privilege”-oriented zingers himself.  (Yes, I know...  This is a very loose interpretation of a character pro, but I take them where I can find them).

Character Cons

1. Raj suffers from selective mutism and can’t talk to women outside his family without imbibing. One of the writer’s favorite recurring gags is to make an oblivious, drunk Raj say something highly inappropriate to a woman and then appear surprised when she walks away in an offended huff.  Yeah…*gives a major side-eye to the writers*…that bit has gotten old, and they definitely need to let that horse stay dead and buried.

2. Unless my memory is failing me (and it’s not), Raj is the only one out of the group that has yet to have a steady girlfriend/long-term relationship.  Fortunately, Raj finally fell in love this season. Unfortunately, it was with a perky blond deaf girl who was just using him for his money. 

See how the writers did that? He had to date a deaf girl so he wouldn’t be hampered by that whole can’t-talk-to-women-without-being-drunk thing.  'Cause you know…they couldn’t actually let him begin to grow as a character and try to work his way through his disorder. Or get some play.  Or a real love interest.  After five seasons. Uh-huh.

3. Raj is in America on a work Visa, and of course we got the “deportation scare” episode during season three. (Yeah…I know...yet another trope. He’s a stranger in a strange land with brown skin and a funny accent.  Hilarious.)

4. Out of all of the main characters, Raj is the only one that doesn’t seem to be growing. Sheldon is turning into an actual human being (mostly); Leonard has been quite lucky in love (one might say almost too lucky); Wolowitz is not only engaged, but was chosen to go to the ISS for three weeks; and Penny has gone from waitress to bartender to paid actress over the years.

And what has Raj done besides get demoted, nearly lose his work Visa, and get used by a woman he thought he loved?  Well, besides standing in the shadows of his white friends and longing to be more like them, nothing that I can see.

5. Raj puts up with his best friend Wolowitz’ racist remarks way too much for my comfort.  Yes, he usually calls him out on it, but so what? 

6. Raj has a pretty visceral dislike of his own culture.  He doesn’t like Indian food and can't seem to stand his home country.  He always has something pretty deragatory to say about India and allows Sheldon to constantly dispute his knowledge of his own people and religion.

Conclusion

At this point, I'm thoroughly convinced that this show doesn't have any writers that aren't white.  I'd be honestly suprised if I found out that they did.  Because from where I sit all I see is a POC placed in the “second class citizen” role (again), automatically making the white characters the de-facto heroes, the ones that the audience should look up to and want to emulate.

It doesn’t matter that they’re all typical geeks, it doesn’t matter that they all have the collective social adeptness of a fourteen year old, and it doesn’t matter that out of all them, Raj is the one that seems to be the most put together.  Leonard grew up in a loveless home, Sheldon grew up in a fundamentalist religious home with an intolerant mother, and Wolowitz still lives with an über-dependent, overprotective mother who treats her grown son like a stand-in husband and perpetual child all rolled into one (which he doesn’t seem to have a problem with, mind you).

But despite his big brain, stable family, wealth and good looks, it’s Raj that can’t get and keep a woman. It’s Raj that has to worry about being deported. And it’s Raj whose characterization has been stagnant and stunted over five long seasons. It's like the writers/showrunners have no idea what the hell to do with him...and it shows.  If I was a cynical person, I’d think that they have no particular interest in making his character anything other than a foil for the white characters. Oh…wait…

Kunal Nayyar

18 comments:

  1. Come on, Cinnamon, you can't expect the audience to take a foreign brown person seriously. How else is the show supposed to be funny? *ends sarcasm*

    And why did I get flashbacks of Fez when I read this post?

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  2. The insecurities of those writers. They know if Raj ends up with a woman, thats the end of the show, most ppl will stop watching it, no more borderline racist jokes.
    You have made valid points on his charachter.

    On another note, hes soooooooo gorgeous. :)

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  3. Glad I'm not the only who thinks he is the hottest man on that show. I can't say I'm surprised he doesn't get much play or even a legitimate relationship. Can't let those ugly ass white dudes feel inadequate. But seriously, they cannot justify Leonard getting more play than Raj. He is just so damn oogly and not that much better in terms of views and attitude. XP I would love to see Kunal on something else. I will be his number one fan girl any day of the week. He is so sexy.

    And my god, how the hell did Howard get engaged? He's like the grossest of them all. And I like Bernadette but she could have done better.

    Howard makes inappropriate claims of a racial nature quite often. Remember the episode with Bernadette's ex who was tall and black? Howard could not stop himself from expressing his penis envy. -_-

    But yeah, the dynamics are similar to Fez on that 70's show. Why couldn't he be an American citizen, even one who grew up mostly in India? Why couldn't one of the white guys be foreign?

    Why can't there be a token POC on the girl's side? Hell, why not give Raj an Indian girlfriend right now?

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  4. Oh and as much as I like Amy Fara Fowler she is hella fetishist and it's gross.

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  5. I feel like they could do more with Amy. Like showing how it's difficult being both female and intelligent in predominantly male fields. I like her eccentricities but there is not much discussion of her challenges. Also hope she doesn't let Sheldon walk all over her. It was good that she got an upgrade in their relationship. I still find it funny that almost all the women on the show are connected by relationships among the male group of friends.

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  6. @Leoprincess

    How could I forget about fine ass Fez? The first time I saw Wilmer Valerrama out of character, my mouth was hanging open. That man is absolutely gorgeous.

    And I agree...you can substitute Fez for Raj and the characterization is basically the same. Wow, not much has changed, huh?

    @Marona
    Remember the episode with Bernadette's ex who was tall and black? Howard could not stop himself from expressing his penis envy.

    And by extension, the writers couldn't stop themselves from expressing their penis envy. I think a lot of what we're seeing from these writers (esp. the men) is their way of expressing some of their thoughts and desires. I think it's just another extension of the white guilt fantasy thing (ie. the sudden influx of shows/movies that pair BW with WM, shows where the WM is the smartest/strongest/most virile one around, apocalyptic shows where a disproportionate number of white people survive and end up as the de-facto leaders of their ragtag group of mostly monochromatic survivors). It's become a pattern that's become pretty hard to ignore.

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  7. And why did I get flashbacks of Fez when I read this post?

    Me too!!!!!!!!

    DAMN, he's fine.

    *applause* Cinnamon, you are too good.

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  8. I never watched Big Bang Theory, because I don't really watch American tv too much these days. Seems like all the shows went to pot during the "reality tv" years and I just kinda started watching indie films on netflix, watching stuff on roku and getting into k-dramas.

    The points you make sound like very typical treatment of POC in sitcoms and other popular media though. Always desexualizing if not fully feminizing the men of color smdh.

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  9. I love that photo of Kumal( the one at the bottom)

    I also will agree with you. From time to time, I check out the Big Bang show. You're correct in saying that Kumal is the most attractive man on that show.

    I was on Shasha's blog about Harry Shum and one of the things I said about him was that he( Harry) is one guy I could never see in a stereotypical mode and it wouldn't work even if they tried. Mind you that, Kumal is in one,but he's a guy who just don't fit being a geek and no matter how they try to "ugly" him up, it doesn't work.

    That is one of the things I've noticed about Kumal. I've seen him and the rest of the Big Bang cast in a magazine article. It's funny. All of them are supposed to be portrayed as geeks,but Kumal--no matter how the show attempted to make him look that way---really didn't look like one, whereas the others did. Seemed like their plans of downgrading his attractiveness failed.

    I was surprised that they let Kumal's character have a heat of the moment sex with a woman( is the same blond? The one that I'm referring to did the same thing,but wasn't interested in him as a boyfriend? With this girl she wasn't deaf). Still, it sad that Hollywood still do not treat Asians and other POC's right. Kumal deserves better.

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  10. *looks at top pic*
    *looks at bottom pic*
    *looks at top pic*
    *looks at bottom pic*
    *looks at top pic*
    *looks at bottom pic*
    *looks at top pic*
    *looks at bottom pic*

    HOW IS THAT THE SAME GUY?!!!!!!!!!!!!

    DAYUM!!!!!

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  11. I think another comment of mine got caught in the spam filter.

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  12. Cosign!
    I always thought Raj was the most attractive character on the show. It always makes me cringe that he always gets the scrapes. That one and only time when he managed to score with a woman, it was an old fat white chick (unattractive in the eyes of the writers). When he slept with Penny, we later learn that they actually didn't do anything because he got "nervous".
    He definitely IS the only one who never got the chance to evolve, thank you for pointing that out.
    Too bad, because I really like the rare moments he gets on screen. And I knew he was fine but I didn't know how much until I saw that picture... Damn. I wish we could see more attractive Indian/Middle Eastern actors on TV (I'm thinking Sendhil Ramamurthy of Heroes or Naveen Andrews of Lost).

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    Replies
    1. Sendhil Remamurthy is physical perfection. The jawline. The accent. His entire body. HAVE MERCY. *faints*

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  13. I've never watched this show but damn he looks good in that second picture.

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  14. Sica, sounds like you need to check out the wonderful world of Bollywood. The different sensibilities in acting take some getting used to, but the scenery is sooo worth it!

    Google John Abraham, Hrithik Roshan, and Shahid Kapoor. Enjoy! :P

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  15. Here are Kunal Nayyar's (Dr Rajesh Koothrapalli) parents in real life.

    Just like his on screen scowling parents, his real life parents too are from New Delhi.

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  16. This is why I watched it only in the first 2.5 seasons. Honestly him and Sheldon are the hottest of the bunch but everyone knows that in real life it's him that would be overall successful. I also hate that he never was into his own culture. I don't mind being open to others but why does he need to be closed to home?

    Altogether disappointed with U.S. tv. I am now a J/K/T drama watcher and I don't even feel the urge to return. When they cancelled Flash Forward that was the last chance for me. Glee was cool until they started doing too much and in the end of course the black girl and asians just couldn't get nothin' good. Done!

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  17. My mom loves this show. I watch it with her sometimes, and each time, all I can think is Damn...Kunal is foine.

    My mom didn't believe me when I talked about good-looking he is in real life.

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