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Mr Big Bang
Kunal Nayyar (extreme right) with co-stars from The Big Bang Theory

With more and more Indians peopling the American campus, it was only a matter of time before the nerdy Indian made an appearance in US sitcoms. Rajesh Koothrappali is one such figure.

Koothrappali, an astrophysics buff, figures in The Big Bang Theory, a Warner Bros. Television and Chuck Lorre Productions venture that recently launched a second season on CBS in the US and is beamed on Zee Cafe here on Thursdays at 10 pm.

“He is an American-born studious south Indian,” says Kunal Nayyar, a London-born Punjabi who plays Koothrappali.

What he doesn’t say as readily is how shy his character is with women, how alcohol suppresses his social anxieties and what follows a few pegs. Is Kunal any better with women than Koothrappali? “I can talk to them,” he laughs out loud.

The handsome not-so-nerdy man is in Delhi on vacation. “I left for the US in 1999 to do a BA in business and marketing. For my Masters, I shifted to acting.” Kunal landed the role in The Big Bang Theory through his agent. “It was down to me and a Middle-Eastern actor in the auditions. Finally, I was chosen.”

The best thing about being on American television, he feels, is the star treatment. A look at his contract would make our soap stars go green in the face. “We do five-day weeks. For every four weeks of work, we get a week off. That gives the writers time to take the story forward.”

Though the scripting happens in advance, on-the-spot changes can be woven in as well. “We film in front of a live audience. So if a joke doesn’t make them laugh, the writer can quickly write another joke and whisper the new line in our ears. We have to memorise that and deliver it immediately.”

Kunal Nayyar

The sitcom is shot at the Warner Bros. studios in Los Angeles. “All their other big shows like Two and a Half Men, Gray’s Anatomy and ER are shot on the adjacent floors. I come across stars like Charlie Sheen every now and then.”

Despite being in showbiz, Kunal is not a party animal. “I prefer to come home to the 11pm Friends.” Yes, he has met Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer at social dos (not Jennifer Aniston, though). “I am not sure what they do now. They have made enough money to last 10 generations. Primetime TV stars make as much as $1 million a week!”

How is he himself faring? “I have no complaints. If you tell me my scope gets limited because of my ethnicity, I’ll tell you there are so many tall good-looking American boys for every mainstream role.”

Kunal has no plans of shifting to India. “I know the industry there. And they pay so much money that it’s bad for the heart,” he laughs.

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