This interesting feature on BBC talks about the recent emergence of actors of South Asian origin in Hollywood and US television shows. For decades, they were relegated to token and stereotypical roles. As recently as a couple of years back, one of the biggest South Asian names, Kal Penn, played the role of a ….. surprise ….. terrorist on the TV show, 24. Besides Penn, the article also talks about other popular TV names like Aasif Mandvi and Pooja Kumar.
However, before any of the current crop had an opportunity to be stereotyped and marginalized, Noel De Souza, was busy personifying these terms.
In the early 1950s, India-born Noel De Souza studied theatre in California, where his schoolmates were Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, now Hollywood veterans. But Indians were so foreign to American viewers that De Souza had to play Latinos in Hollywood films for many years.
Before Kalpen Modi was born, Noel De Souza had played the token desi guy in screen gems like Jungle Jim (1955), Never So Few (1959), the TV show Mission: Impossible (1969) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), Sanford and Son (1974) and The Man with the Power (1977). He also ended up playing a Latino in other screen gems like the TV series Zorro (1958). Of course, I use the term “screen gems” in a sarcastic manner but that should give an idea of how stereotyped and marginalized this actor was.
Noel De Souza attained the nirvana of stereotyping when he played the role of Gandhi. Star Trek: Voyager fans from the 90s probably noticed a Gandhi in one of the episodes. That Gandhi was played none other than Noel De Souza. [Video: Gandhi starting at 3:30 mark]
And yes, that is Gandhi with a skimpily clad woman. Where’s Zed uncle when you need him?