Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu’s “The Problem with Apu” continues to create ripples. At a special screening organized by SAKHI, a New York City-based non-profit for South Asian women suffering domestic violence, the documentary was seen by over 300 audience members. This was followed by a noteworthy panel, moderated by essayist Aditi Natasha Kini, including the host of the “See Something, Say Something” podcast Ahmed Ali Akbar, TV Guide features editor Krutika Mallikarjuna, and WNYC‘s race and immigration reporter Arun Venugopal.

In the documentary, Kondabolu’s focus is to figure out why Apu is extremely stereotypical, and how it affected him personally over the years. Kondabolu talks to fellow South Asian-American comedians, actors, and other famous personalities, including “The Simpsons” writer Dana Gould.  At the panel discussion, the conversation was primarily about Apu, what worked about this film and where it lacked. However, there was also an important talk about the growth of South Asians on television and dealing with tough topics like the Aziz Ansari allegations.

All the panelists could relate not just to Kondabolu, but also the people he interviewed for the film. Growing up as a South Asian in America in the 90s, Apu was the only unfortunate reference point for them. Luckily, today there is a growing number of desi’s who are working hard to represent the real us on-screen. Mallikarjuna brought up Jameela Jamil’s character from “The Good Place,” Tahani Al-Jamil, a rich Pakistani socialite who evolves as a person in the afterlife. She also talked about Mindy Kaling and her comedy “The Mindy Project,” which came to an end after six seasons in November 2017. “The show was a well-rounded romantic-comedy but Kaling was comfortable as being the only primary South Asian character,” she said. Mallikarjuna loves and respects Kaling but says that the show could’ve done so much for desi female friendships.

Talking more in detail about the real problem with Apu, Venugopal pointed out that in the 80’s, there weren’t too many options to choose from for someone who could *actually* voice the character. If there was, they weren’t given a fair chance. Mallikarjuna definitely puts blame on Hank Azaria, the white actor who has been the voice of Apu ever since it began, but also on the creators and writers who didn’t know any better. Why weren’t they called out for not casting a real Indian actor? She even talks about how Kondabolu went relatively easy on Dana Gould in his documentary after he said that “certain accents are, by their nature, funny to white Americans.”

Akbar believes that “The Problem with Apu” lacked in one major aspect. It didn’t delve into what the lower class South Asian immigrants go through because of Apu; the people who work in Kwik-e-Mart style convenience stores.

The panel was culminated by talking about the elephant in the room, Aziz Ansari. The actor is featured in “The Problem with Apu.” Ever since the allegations of sexual assault were published against him on Babe, the desi community is definitely reeling about our feelings for him.

The reason the panel worked is that everyone sitting on that stage was involved with their desi roots but were proud of their dual identities. They had evocative and thoughtful information to share, and to be honest, it just felt great to hear an open conversation about issues that so deeply impact the diaspora. Kudos to SAKHI for organizing something so constructive.

Watch the entire panel here:

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