My Take Too: Anisha Nagarajan talks OUTSOURCED

Sometimes Amrie sets aside HER take on TV to let someone else have a go. Sunil is just such a someone else. Formerly of RTVW Online and Mars Investigations, he has multiple Comic-Cons under his belt and is happy to share his love of television with anyone who will listen.

Last month, I attended the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival’s panel on Breakout Female Comedians, featuring Anisha Nagarajan, who plays scene-stealer Madhuri on OUTSOURCED. She regaled us with tales of her Shakespeare-loving parents, her Broadway debut, and porn. All right, the porn talk mainly came from her fellow panelists. I was able to follow up with her via e-mail and ask some of our most burning questions.

Madhuri in the pilot was somewhat of a one-joke character: the call-center worker who can barely speak. But she’s become a genuinely interesting character with family issues, a tendency to gossip, and an obsession with Hrithik Roshan. How much input have you had into developing Madhuri’s character?
The creative team does try to tap into our strengths. So, for instance, Ken Kwapis (who directed a couple of the debut episodes of OUTSOURCED [and knows I have a Broadway background]) heard me sing and, along with Robert Borden, came up with the idea that there would be an episode when Todd would discover that Madhuri has singing chops.  So, the idea for “A Sitar Is Born” was on the table from close to the start of the series. For the rest, I have, from time to time, had input in suggesting certain ideas for Madhuri.

You mentioned at the panel that you’re mirroring a girl you knew at boarding school in India.
I have such affectionate memories of the girls I met during my school and boarding-school experiences in India. Yes, there was a girl in my class who was both exceptionally quiet and exceptionally bright. A math wiz but also close to a mute one! You would never have known, at first meeting, that there was so much more to her than met the eye (or ear). One of the background stories for Madhuri that was being tossed around earlier was that she has actually memorized the entire Mid America Novelties catalog! Perhaps, we’ll learn more about this if/when OUTSOURCED is renewed!

Do you visit India often?
Sadly, I no longer visit India as often as I did when I was younger…but my memories of my visits to India are among my most vivid and favorite recollections – especially eating street food and playing Antakshari [a singing game]!

What are your favorite places to visit?
My favorite places to visit are the homes of my relatives and friends – in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai.

How accurately do you think the show captures India and Indian culture?
India is such a diverse country and Indian culture is so varied that I believe each defies generalizations. I think that OUTSOURCED does an excellent job of giving people glimpses into varying aspects of both the country and the culture from different perspectives, mostly comic ones.

You described yourself as an extrovert playing an introvert. Besides you, who is least like their character? Who’s most like their character?
The wonderful thing about the show is that each of us has elements of the fictional character each of us portrays. While I am, perhaps, more extrovert than introvert, I have my shy and reserved moments when I feel at a loss for words and inhibited about talking aloud. As Madhuri starts feeling more comfortable and safer in her work environment, she becomes less inhibited about revealing other aspects of her personality. I think that is true of most of us in varying degrees. The person who is least like his character is, undoubtedly, Diedrich! He actually loves Indian food!

You mentioned that your mother sent you a link to the Fuck Yeah Todd and Madhuri Tumblr site. Other than being taken aback that your mom sent you a website with “Fuck” in the title, what do you think of Todd and Madhuri as a couple?
It has interesting possibilities! Frankly, I love everything that keeps our fans guessing and speculating! I know that the writers have a few surprises in store, but, for the most part, I think that most relationships this season will remain largely tentative…allowing for more maneuvering room during season 2 (fingers crossed).

What has been your favorite scene to film so far?
The “Eternal Flame” scene in “A Sitar Is Born” was definitely one of my favorites to film, as well as the Holi scene when we take down the A team and Gupta and I have a Charlie’s Angels moment.  That was WAY too much fun to shoot.

Will you be recording a version of “Eternal Flame” to be released?
I hope that there will be a recording of our version that will be released. Either way, I might try and include it among any cover songs that I record for my album.

Tell us about the album you’re recording!
I have composed a few songs but the album itself is still in a gestational state. I hope it will have mostly original songs but it may include a few cover songs as well.

Are you a classically trained singer? Who are some of your influences?
I have not had any consistent classical training as a singer. I was part of the Civic Light Opera in Pittsburgh and was a very active member of my choir and musicals throughout school. I did work with a professional vocal trainer during my stint on Broadway. I also studied under renowned classical Carnatic music vocalists at the S.V. Temple in Pittsburgh every summer when I was in Elementary and Middle School. They were among the best teachers I’ve had – so nurturing and encouraging. I also owe a lot to my piano teacher, Natasha Snitkovsky, who is in many ways like Madame Sousatzka (one of my favorite movies). Singers I love and who inspire me are Regina Spektor and Diana Krall. I also love Aruna Sairam and Shankar Mahadevan.

What is one thing you love that would shock most everybody?
I’m not sure if this has shock-value…but I love to cook (in an obsessive-compulsive way). Three-course gourmet meals (à la Julia Child). I’m told they’re not meals, they’re productions!

OUTSOURCED mines a lot of humor from things that some people may find offensive or unacceptable, like breaking off pieces of statues of Hindu gods or pushing down a pregnant woman on a train. Have there been any jokes that were so out there you couldn’t believe the writers got away with it?
OUTSOURCED does push the envelope on many dimensions. I recently started watching the Ricky Gervais travel show AN IDIOT ABROAD and found that there were some aspects that were similar to our show! When Charlie does the incredibly ignorant things he does, he IS the Idiot Abroad and [is] exposed as one. When Todd puts his foot in his mouth or puts his hand or elbow where it shouldn’t be, he too is the befuddled ignoramus – not unlike the proverbial “FOB”s [Fresh Off the Boat] who come to America. Each of my parents has hilarious stories about their faux-pas when they first came to the U.S. I have similar stories about my visits to India. OUTSOURCED, essentially, is a wacky comedy of cross-cultural manners and mannerisms. It might be over-the-top, at times, but its impulses are always well-intentioned and grounded in good humor.

Many people were turned off from OUTSOURCED right from the start. It’s improved a great deal in many ways since the pilot, however. Why do you think people should watch OUTSOURCED? What does it offer that other shows don’t?
I think many of those people who were turned off were people with a mind-set who couldn’t look beyond the title of the show. OUTSOURCED, like so many other shows, songs, and people in our daily lives, starts to grow on you as you give it a chance. It is, without a doubt, unlike anything else on prime time. It provides you with vignettes of another country and culture and a cast that doesn’t fit the norm. In other words, OUTSOURCED is a show on the box that thinks outside the box. Even at its most provocative, it is probably the only show on TV that is inspiring dialogue about cultures outside the U.S. I was surprised to learn that there is a business center/call center that is using each of the show’s episodes to jumpstart talking points about management-related issues, such as motivation, rivalries, sexual harassment and the like! I’d say that’s pretty unique!

Be sure to watch OUTSOURCED on NBC this Thursday at 10:30/9:30c!