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The outsider

Big Bang Theory‘s Kunal Nayyar opens up about his struggles, upbringing and life as an outsider in America

The outsider

book review

Behind every successful role, there is a mysterious actor who makes the character conceivable, likeable and believable. In Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You, one of the highest paid TV actors of this generation, Kunal Nayyar (who plays Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory) opens up about his upbringing, his struggles, his love life and above all, life as an outsider in America.

Unlike his onscreen character, who shuts up when he sees a girl and needs to be inebriated to gather the nerve to speak in front of the opposite sex, Kunal Nayyar is a different person off screen. In the book, he etches out his journey which includes a period when he wasn’t sure if he would be a part of the show that has made him a global star. For instance, his character’s name was supposed to be named David Koothrappali instead of Raj Koothrappali. He wasn’t contacted for some time because the creators of the sitcom were unsure about his selection and that he wrote this book not as a memoir but as a way to tell people about his interesting life.

Kunal Nayyar is an interesting person and the way he narrates his life is even more intriguing. He talks in a matter-of-fact way which is something not many writers are capable of. He tells of the interesting games he used to play when he was young – India and Pakistan – which was an extension of Cowboys and Indians. He talks about facing constant rejection as a theatre actor despite being loved by the audience and also of a time when his friends in university could cook and all he could say was ‘I am okay’ just because he didn’t know anything about cooking.

Did you know that the geeky Indian-American astrophysicist from The Big Bang Theory’s first job was that of a university housekeeper who had to clean toilets for minimum wage? Before he became a TV star, he touched stardom as a local badminton champ. He used to chug soft drinks to impress friends, etc.

Kunal Nayyar also talks about his personal life, his relationship with his father and a lot more. He terms his father as an intelligent man who stood up for what was right and never enforced his own ambition on his children. For Nayyar, his father is perfect and he says so in the book.

And if you’re wondering about his secret to success, it’s using a spreadsheet. Kunal goes onto explain how words of wisdom from his dad helped him get through tough situations, how it inspired him to treat others equally, why he loved the many traditions in India and why he is indebted to his first real international friend,  a 6’8” gentle-giant French roommate. Nayyar notes how it was only as the sidekick of the Basketball star that he was able to make friends as a student in the University of Portland.

This book isn’t just about an actor who becomes successful. It is about an English-born Indian who never could fit in anywhere – be it India or England – and when destiny took him to America, he made the most of it, despite hardships, heartbreaks and failures. The narrative here is full of self-deprecating sense of humour which adds flavour to whatever incidents the writer has mentioned.

There are a few thought-provoking chapters in this book as well in which Kunal gets up, close and personal with his fans. From “A-Z Guide to Getting Nookie in New Delhi during High School” to “Kunal’s Twelve Quick Thoughts on Dating,” he gives free advice to all those who fall in love every now and then, like him.

Yes there are references to sex, to religious beliefs and to the many one-sided relationship Kunal has had over the years but if you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you are nearly ready for these kinds of jokes. It’s hilarious the way he compares his lesbian friend to eating beef burger, why he didn’t feel sad on being dumped repeatedly and how he managed to finally find the girl of his dreams (a former Miss India too) and the lengthy marriage ceremony that followed it. For those who’ve had a different childhood, who have learned from their mistakes and are easy going despite hardships, this book is for them. It will resonate well with all those who have, at some point or another, felt like a stranger. Highly recommended.

Omair Alavi is a freelance journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]

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