The problem with much of the South Asian content on the big and small screen is that for the most part, it’s unrelatable, or simply aims to get cheap laughs.
I know I grew tired of seeing the same old representations, and it seems like so was Karan Sunil, creator of new comedy-drama, Code-Switched, a web series by South Asians, about South Asians, specifically for South Asians.
Karan Sunil is a first-generation Indian-American writer and director based in LA. Having immigrated from India as a child, Karan has been on a journey to use filmmaking to reflect the humanity that lies in a constant sense of in-between.
Sunil wanted to create a show influenced by the sitcoms about friendship that he watched as a child, but this time, with brown people, because he never saw himself on the screen, and when he did, he never felt the characters represented him.
Rather than wait for Hollywood to step up and give brown folks the representation they deserve, Sunil decided to give it a shot himself. Sunil, like many of us living in the diaspora, has learned about himself and his own identity, from other South Asian folks, and not just those from the same religious or ethnic backgrounds.
It’s been a long journey for Sunil and his team. The web series released its trailer and pilot episode in 2017 and started a crowdfunding campaign that quickly raised $30,000 and allowed them to start shooting in 2018.
The show follows the interconnected lives of friends Zara, Rahul, Priya, Joe, and Krish, as they try to make sense of their messy lives with relationships, high family expectations, and gentrified workplaces.
Sunil says he created the five lead characters from his own experiences, the people he knows, and focus groups he held at universities in order to tell different stories of growing up brown in America.
In an interview with 5X Press, Sunil said that one thing that was important for the creation of the characters was that at no point are they “chasing whiteness, replicating whiteness, and pleasing white people.”
This is the thing that places Code-Switched in the wider context of South Asian representation in media. The characters are all in their mid-to-late 20s and even though they’re still dealing with gentrified workplaces and neighborhoods, they’ve moved on from the assimilation period many first-gens go through and are now just trying to make sense of their lives and how to “have it all.”
“Ultimately, the show is meant for the in-between moments,” he said.
Code-Switched was able to bring in miniscule details of first-gen life. The five leads carry first-gen guilt as they follow their own paths, separate from the ones their parents had hoped for them. They’re not sure what’s happening next in their personal or professional lives and are wondering how they got to where they are now.
Code-Switched also gives cute intergenerational moments, and without spoiling anything, viewers get a glimpse of parental acceptance -- something brown kids often believe to be out of reach.
“Media is about showing ourselves, but also showing the selves we want to be,” said Sunil.
I appreciate moments like these because it’s a reminder that as we grow and unlearn, our parents are also growing, and unlearning old ways of thinking. Even though for many of us this idea of such fast acceptance feels unrealistic, seeing it on the screen gives us some hope.
The show never makes South Asian culture the butt of a joke. Sunil said that growing up, this is what he saw on screen, and it was often written by non-South Asian people.
As a South Asian creator, he wanted the characters to live in their truths. He hopes that viewers learn “that there are so many different types of South Asian people. And I don't think a single show can encapsulate it, this show does not encapsulate it. But I hope that seeing a variety of South Asian folks in one show can inspire people to make more content that explores other avenues within the diaspora.”
Will there be another season? If there is, I hope to see the characters navigate the in-between space together.
Watch the trailer below: