What a typical Bollywood nerd will look like.
People from India portrayed as various forms of geeks and nerds, although almost always on the smart end.
American media has very little to go by in terms of Indian stereotypes. While many Indians do speak English, this was under Imperial British rule. Americans know virtually nothing about them. One possibly apocryphal story relates Ronald Reagan
being asked a question about the Indian crisis and he mistakenly thought he was being asked about Indians on reservations.
So as far as Indian characters go, we really only know a few things: One, they have funny accents. Two, they drive cabs and run convenience stores
. Yeah, those ain't gonna fly anymore
. Three, Indians are so intelligent, they are the source of many white collar job outsourcings. So, obviously, all Indians must be geniuses. And therefore, nerds.
Note that the Bollywood Nerd
is much less pronounced in nerdiness than other character types because of where the stereotype comes from — they're intelligent because they're stealing jobs from hard-working Americans. As is such, it doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense to show them as being lazy. Your typical Bollywood Nerd
will be a scientist, doctor, or just plain normal guy who has an IQ of 153. In other words, what your mom wishes you were instead of wasting your time
on this website.
According to the 2000 census Indian Americans have the highest educational qualifications of all national origin groups in the USA with about two thirds of Indian Americans having attained a Bachelor's degree or more. Around two fifths of all Indian Americans have a master's, doctorate or other professional degree, which is five times the national average. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Indian American men had "the highest year-round, full-time median earnings". So Truth in Television
to a certain extent.
This trope is not as common in Great Britain, where a higher percentage of the population is of South Asian ancestry. However, it did exist to some extent in colonial India, where the British were fond of stereotyping the different ethnicities on the subcontinent. There were some exceptions, but in general Punjabis (from northwestern India) were seen as tough and brave and were popular choices for sepoy troops, while Bengalis (from northeastern India) were supposedly weak and cowardly intellectuals. In a nutshell, Punjabis = jocks, Bengalis = nerds.
Note that actual Bollywood
films rarely use this character type. That's because Indians are pretty common over in India
, so they don't have any trouble giving them diverse roles.
Compare Asian and Nerdy
, Black and Nerdy
, Hollywood Nerd
,Jewish and Nerdy
, and, of course, Nerd
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Anime and Manga
- Dr. Rakshata Chawla from Code Geass, a Bunny Ears Hot Scientist. Also, most of China's Knightmare Frames are implied to have been designed by Indian engineers.
- Kaolla Su from Love Hina is a mechanical genius who hails from Molmol, a Pacific island kingdom that really resembles India (and everyone thought she was Indian before).
- Dr. Kavita Rao in X-Men, who first appeared after having developed a serum that could cure the Homo superior mutations, and later joined them as part of the X-Club, a think tank assembled by Beast in order to try and reverse the effects of the Decimation.
- Salah from Batman and the Outsiders, who is probably Pakistani but fulfills this role as the tech expert and robotics engineer.
- Kamela Khan aka Ms. Marvel. She has a nerdy knowledge of her universe's real Superheroes, has been a keen MMORPG player and fanfic writer.
Films — Live-Action
- Ben in Short Circuit was a computer scientist Indian guy (even though he was portrayed by Fisher Stevens). Lampshaded in one scene:
Newton:"Where are you from, anyway?"
Ben: "Bakersfield, originally."
Newton:"No, I mean your ancestors."
Ben: "Oh, them. Pittsburgh."
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle attempted to avert this, but eventually ended up admitting that Indians just make good doctors for some reason. The straight use of this trope is seen in that Kumar comes off as far less nerdy than his Asian and Nerdy friend Harold (though they both smoke pot).
- It wasn't so much that he was a good doctor by virtue of being Indian so much as by the end of the first film he (at least temporarily) decides that he should go to his medical school interview and take it seriously because he now appreciates his father more and wants to make him happy.
- Kumar was actively trying to defy this trope. Even though he was highly intelligent and had a natural talent for medicine, he didn't want to be seen as a stereotypical Bollywood Nerd, so he dropped out of med school and spent his time getting stoned. Then he realised that being a doctor would actually be pretty cool.
- In the live action movie adaptation of Street Fighter, Dhalsim works for Bison as a scientist, and is responsible for running (and ruining) his experiments.
- Averted in the anime film, however; that version is just a generically wise holy warrior.
- Dileep Rao seems to be the go-to guy to play this kind of role in Hollywood, as evidenced by his roles in Avatar and Inception. He's also one in real life, as he is a former winner on Jeopardy! prior to his acting career
- Jimi Mistry plays one in 2012.
- Real-life Bollywood nerd Divya Narendra was portrayed by British actor Max Minghella (who is of Chinese and Italian descent), in the film The Social Network.
- Arnau in Safety Not Guaranteed
- Anji Kapoor, from the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. She's a futures trader and damn good at it, watches documentaries about economics for fun, and occasionally reads Jane Austen, although, like many examples of this trope, she's not actually geeky. Also, she was the first recurring Doctor Who character of Asian descent, though Rani from the Whoniverse series The Sarah Jane Adventures and Toshiko from Torchwood have appeared subsequently.
- Doctor Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai (also known as Dr. Chandra) from 2010: Odyssey Two.
- Averted in the film, however, where he's played by the white and Jewish Bob Balaban and is always referred to as Dr. Chandra instead of his full name.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians briefly mentions a "calculus whiz" named Raj Mandali, who got picked on a lot.
- Dr. Mohinder Suresh from Heroes. Now, granted, he and his father were both college professors, so it makes sense for them to be smart. But like Asian and Nerdy Hiro, the implications of this are pretty difficult to ignore when he's pretty much the only Indian in the series.
- And he's a cab driver. And so was his father (lampshaded in the series itself, where Mohinder warns his father that Indian academics who migrate to America end up driving cabs).
- On The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi once insisted that Jon Stewart introduce him as "Dr. Aasif Mandvi"; claiming: "I'm an Indian American, Jon. We're all born with a certain level of graduate school medical training."
- In fact, as listed on the IMDB, Mandvi has played a doctor at least eleven times (though not usually particularly nerdy ones).
- Raj from The Big Bang Theory. At least he's surrounded by other nerds, but is often the Chew Toy of the group. On the other hand, women do seem to find him attractive. Too bad he can't talk to them - sober.
- This changes in a later season though.
- Subverted in season 8 of Scrubs with new intern Ed. He's smart, but is ridiculously lazy and trendy, but because he doesn't take being a doctor seriously he gets fired.
- Every role played by Aziz Ansari seems to subvert this role. His character in Parks and Recreation, Tom, is also intelligent yet underachieving.
- Jawaharlal on Head of the Class is a surprisingly early example. So early probably that the writers weren't so much deliberately associating India with intelligence so much as needing him to round out a Five-Token Band of kids who were all nerds anyway.
- Averted by Lester Patel in Chuck. He knows enough about computers to scrape by working in the Buy More Nerd Herd, but when the only person below you on the Buy More totem pole is Jeff Barnes, you're not exactly a genius.
- Mostly played straight but sometimes subverted by Kutner from House. He's a doctor whose interests include Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, etc. Thirteen describes his apartment as "man-boy heaven". During high school, however, he was a bully.
- Averted on the American version of The Office: Kelly Kapoor is portrayed as a bit of an airhead, far too excitable and into pop culture for her own good, even if she does seem to be fairly intelligent and good at her job.
- Dr. Mahesh Vijayaraghavensatyanaryanamurthy aka "Bug" from Crossing Jordan
- Ranjid from the German Sketch Comedy show Was guckst du?!.
- More of a subversion - while being the best known (if not the only) fictional Indian on German TV, he's more of a dork, and not very bright.
- Dr Nayak from Fringe. A rare villainous example. Okay, anti-villainous example.
- Dr. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project zigzags this in a rare female example. She's an OB/GYN who is very very good at her job, makes nerdy pop-culture references, and is implied to have gotten excellent grades in school. However, she also obsessed with shopping and fashion as well as celebrity culture, and is a bit boy-crazy.
- Asok from Dilbert is so smart and his school is so good that they taught how to use psychic powers. Which the great Indian hierarchy may remove from him if he abuses them too much. The dullness of his job strains his ultra-powerful brain into near bouts of madness.
- When he did break the rules with his powers in order to save the day, he was sentenced to go back to his cubicle at the office.
- In Seven Years of Highly Defective People, Scott Adams admitted that he wrote Asok the way he did because he didn't think he could get away with making a minority as moronic as the rest of the cast.
- Tiny, tiny bit of Truth in Television in this. Asok's intelligence and, more importantly, his psychic powers are more due to the fact that he attended an Indian Institute of Technology school, consistently ranked as the best in India. You gotta be real smart to get through there.
- Andy, a one-shot Curtis character spotted by The Comics Curmudgeon here.
- Hadji in Jonny Quest: In the original series at least, he always knew much more than Jonny. Given the time of the show's production, this was probably done to make his relationship to Jonny more interesting. In The Real Adventures, they made him the Mission Control computer expert.
- Hilarious in Hindsight. Hadji was created long before India gained a reputation for this. Specifically, he's the lost prince of Bangalore, India's current tech hub.
- Apu in The Simpsons is a computer science graduate, first in his class of seven million people. He originally went to the United States to study science under a student visa. In spite of his high intelligence, though, he works at a Kwik-E-Mart, and has eight children. Best not to think about it too much.
- Isaac Sumdac from Transformers Animated. The strange thing is that he apparently grew up on a farm in rural Michigan, yet still speaks with a Bombay accent. While the Detroit Indian expat community is one of the biggest in the world, it doesn't extend quite all the way to Bad Axe yet (Animated is set in the 22nd century).
- Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb is a prepubescent Bollywood Nerd, and even gets his own Bollywood musical number about it in "The Unfair Science Fair".
- Downplayed on Total Drama Island: Word of God says that Noah is Indian, but he's Ambiguously Brown without any of the usual stereotypical cues. While something of an Insufferable Genius, he's also Brilliant but Lazy and more prone to sarcastic quips than typical nerdy clichés.
- Scaredy Bat from Ruby Gloom has the accent and mannerisms down, despite being well, a Bat.
- Dr. Vindaloo from Courage the Cowardly Dog.