An Exploration of Bollywood Actors in American Shows

In the last few years, Indian cinema’s talented actors have ventured into Hollywood, grabbing headlines with their work. Priyanka Chopra‘s big move when she landed the lead in ABC‘s F.BI. drama “Quantico” was perhaps the biggest jolter. Her role made her a household name in the U.S. and she even made her big screen debut with “Baywatch” in 2017.

Most recently, Bollywood thespian Anupam Kher signed on as a series regular in NBC’s medical drama pilot “Bellevue. While this isn’t his first Hollywood rodeo, having previously starred in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” and TV shows like “Sense8” and “The Indian Detective,” this will be Kher’s first full-time gig on primetime TV is the pilot is picked up.

However, we bring to you the other crossovers between two of the world’s biggest film industries, Bollywood and Hollywood, via the following actors who appeared on American television in some really great, meaningful roles. We sure are witness to desi names being on the roster more and more frequently, aren’t we?

1. Rahul Khanna, “The Americans” 

Scott and Yousaf enjoy some après espionage Shiraz in #TheAmericans hair and make up trailer. @theamericansfx #MatthewRhys

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Bollywood fans are probably familiar with Khanna and his family legacy. His elder brother Akshaye and father Vinod are both established actors. Khanna himself has played notable roles in movies like “Love Aaj Kal” and “Wake Up, Sid.” In 2014, he joined the cast of this FX spy drama for multiple episodes, playing Pakistani intelligence agent Yousaf Rana. He inadvertently becomes the target of KGB secret agent Philip (Matthew Rhys). He recruits Yousaf to gather intelligence about the Afghanistan conflict in the 80s. Khanna was a part of one particularly intense scene that required him stuffing a dead body in a bag.

2. Amy Jackson, “Supergirl”

Suited and Booted #Supergirl #ImraArdeen

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The British-Indian actress made her Tamil cinema debut in 2010, followed by Bollywood’s “Ekk Deewana Tha” in 2012. Since then, she’s gone on to star in “Singh is Bling” and “Freaky Ali,” and she will be seen in superstar Rajnikanth’s next big film “2.0.” In the meanwhile, though, Jackson has kept busy playing a superhero in The CW‘s “Supergirl,” playing Imra Ardeen aka Saturn Girl, a telepath from the 30th century who travels back to the present. She joins other powerful female characters on the show who are skilled fighters. It’s great to see Jackson own this role.

3. Nimrat Kaur, “Homeland”

Season 4 of this award-winning drama was set in Islamabad, Pakistan, where protagonist Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) is sent to as the new Bureau Chief for the CIA. Kaur joined the cast as the villainous Tasneem Qureshi, an intelligence officer pitted directly against Carrie. This was Kaur’s big breakout role because before this, she had appeared in small-budget but terrific films like “Lunchbox.” Since her role in “Homeland,” she has appeared in “Airlift” and currently stars in the web series “The Test Case.”

4. Nimrat Kaur, “Wayward Pines”

That’s right, she didn’t just stop after “Homeland.” Kaur signed on to play Rebecca Yedlin in the second season “Wayward Pines,” M. Night Shyamalan’s short-lived science-fiction drama on FOX. Kaur’s character was complicated and nuanced and she essayed it flawlessly.

5. Suraj Sharma, “Homeland”

Sharma rose to fame with his debut movie “Life of Pi” in 2012. He landed the role of Ayaan Ibrahim in “Homeland” season 4, starring alongside Danes and Kaur. Aayan was a Pakistani medical student and the nephew of the terrorist CIA agent Carrie Matheson is after. Disguised as a journalist, Carrie recruits him as an informant and they go down a dark path. Sharma received praise for his performance and it led to his Bollywood debut opposite Anushka Sharma in 2017’s “Phillauri.” He has been cast as a series regular in CBS‘s comedy pilot “God Friended Me” this year and will be a fixture on our screens if the series is greenlit.

6. Poorna Jagannathan, “The Night Of” 

Jagannathan, the daughter of an Indian diplomat, actually started her career in 2004 with an appearance in “Law & Order.” She went on to have roles in “Numbe3s,” “Rescue Me,” and “Royal Pains” among others. In 2011, she made a splash in Bollywood with her debut film “Delhi Belly,” opposite Imran Khan and Vir Das. Back in the West, her breakout role came with 2016’s Riz Ahmed-starrer “The Night Of.” She played his character Naz’s mother, Safar Khan. Jagannathan was captivating in her performance as a Pakistani-American woman who is emotionally distraught after her son is sent to prison for an alleged murder.

7. Sendhil Ramamurthy, “Heroes”

Much like Jagannathan, Ramamurthy hasn’t done many Bollywood films. He co-starred in 2011’s “Shor in the City” along with Tusshar Kapoor and Radhika Apte. Prior to it, he appeared in movies like Gurinder Chadha‘s “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife.” Ramamurthy’s claim-to-fame will always remain his series regular stint on NBC’s science-fiction drama “Heroes,” where he played an artificially evolved genetics professor named Mohinder Suresh for four seasons. Besides “Heroes,” Ramamurthy has done smaller roles on “CSI: Miami,” “The Office,” “Elementary,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” He has another upcoming NBC show, a virtual reality crime drama named “Reverie,” which will begin airing this summer.

8. Anil Kapoor, “24” 

Kapoor pretty much grabbed headlines in 2009 when he snagged the role of Omar Hassan, the President of a Middle Eastern country, in the coveted Kiefer Sutherland drama “24.” This came after Kapoor, a well-established Bollywood actor for a couple of decades now, received acclaim for his performance in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” Kapoor was so ingrained in this show that he bought the rights and created an Indian spin-off of it, starring as Jai Singh Rathore (aka Jack Bauer’s counterpart) for two seasons. He also did a voiceover role in an episode of “Family Guy” and starred in Amazon’s “Oasis.”

9. Tina Desai, “Sense8”

Netflix’s original drama “”Sense8” focuses on eight individuals from across the world who are connected together. One of the eight is Desai’s Kala Dandekar, a pharmacist living in Mumbai, India. Kala is unlike any other Indian character we’ve seen on TV; a devout Hindu who often converses with God and visits temples, she is part of a love triangle with her groom-to-be Rajan (Purab Kohli, “Jhankar Beats”) and another sensate, Wolfgang (Max Riemelt). Desai struck gold with this role because “Sense8” has gathered a large fan base in just two seasons and will conclude its run in 2019 with a 2-hour film on the streaming giant. She made her career debut with the 2011 Bollywood film “Yeh Faasley,” with other roles in “Table No. 21,” “Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene,” and the two “Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies opposite Dev Patel.

10. Shehnaz Treasury, “Brown Nation”

Treasury has a vast number of titles under her wing; actress, host, video jockey, vlogger, writer. She made her debut opposite Shahid Kapoor in “Ishq Vishk,” following which she had roles in “Hum Tum,” “Delhi Belly,” “Luv Ka The End,” “Kaalakaandi.” However, the Parsi Indian-American actress moved to New York City and has appeared as a contributor on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” since 2015. She currently stars in the Netflix comedy “Brown Nation,” and most recently also made a cameo in Kumail Nanjiani‘s “The Big Sick.”


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