Nayyar’s character in TBBT has been one of the most lasting memories of the show. The show ran for 12 seasons and ended in 2019. It was one of the only shows with a regular Indian character. However, Raj might not have been Indian at all.
Raj Koothrappali is not a character you forget. Rajesh, an Indian immigrant who rarely spoke to women, became a comedic feature from the moment he was on screen. The comedy became a regular feature that distinguished Kunal Nayyar, who was known for his roles in theatre until that point.
- Kunal Nayyar’s career
- Kunal’s initial plans for Koothrappalli
- What changed?
KUNAL NAYYAR’S CAREER
Kunal Nayyar ‘Big Bang’ character is his most significant career accomplishment. However, he was not sitting still before a television gig landed on his lap. When he started, he was only a graduate in finance. However, during his bachelor’s, he took some acting classes and immediately fell in love with the art.
Instead of going the finance route, Nayyar elected to get an MFA in Acting. The choice would change his career, as he was soon playing a leading role in ‘Huck and Holden’, a play on the West Coast. The production, which earned him a “Black Garland” award for his character (Another Indian immigrant who doesn’t fit into America), made him visible to big producers.
He has also appeared alongside Jesse Eisenberg in ‘Spoils’, a play on the West End.
Kunal Nayyar took his chance and charmed the producers to get the role for Raj Koothrappali.
Before getting the role in TBBT, Koothrappali briefly appeared in NCIS, where he played an Iraqi terrorist.
THE INITIAL PLANS
Before Kunal Nayyar, the initial TBBT plans didn’t involve Raj Koothrappali at all. They were looking at someone who would be a first-generation American. They hadn’t settled in on a race either. Kunal described it by saying that he was competing against Japanese and other Asian American men and Latinos.
The actor walked into an audition room filled with actors of all races, and it was supposed to be an American audition. While the character was still envisioned similarly, with awkwardness and the same joke, the Indian-ness of the story was not fixed.
Nayyar, who has written ‘Cotton Candy’, a famous play that premiered to rave reviews in New Delhi, knows his stage and acting. So, he decided to bring his personality into the character as he auditioned for the role in front of bigwigs.
While the other actors played the role of an American, he changed the entire structure of the show.
Kunal Nayyar’s ‘Big Bang’ character was not set to become a New Delhi mama’s boy. As a first-generation American, the character was supposed to have a mix of cultures he could borrow from while acting. However, Nayyar decided that the best place to start the character would be from New Delhi.
Describing the audition, Kunal said in an interview, “But I came, and I brought my big New Delhi self to it!” The actor also addressed the accusations of racism levelled against the character by saying that if the stereotype was “being smart”, he was comfortable with it.
He also opened up about the fact that most Indians avoid bringing Indian-ness into global shows. Most American dramas with Indians play them as quasi-American people who have the same accents and behaviours, while Raj doesn’t. Playing up the Indian characteristics, even if it was for laughs, made Rajesh a virtual star among TBBT fans and made Nayyar an international star.
The Rajesh Koothrappali that fans have come to love was not set in stone from the beginning. The producers were looking for first-generation Americans and people who would follow two cultures at once. However, when Kunal Nayyar walked in and had his performance filled with India, the producers could find no one better to fill the role. The rest is history.