‘Desi Rascals’ reinforces age-old Asian stereotypes.

Cast members of new reality TV show ‘Desi Rascals’ airing on Sky Living. (Photo credit: mirror.co.uk)

In the blossoming world of scripted reality TV, another new show has been thrown into the mix and is currently being sold as the next – and definitively more Asian – version of ITV’s much-loved and loathed reality series The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE).

Cue Sky Living’s Desi Rascals, the most recent project of British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha who is now collaborating with producer Tony Wood of TOWIE and Hollyoaks fame, again aiming to resurrect some good ol’ multiculturalism on (sort of) mainstream TV. Let’s now cue the cliché opening credits, splattering holi colours all over the screen (because that’s now the most identifiable Asian festival for a mainstream audience) with the equally expected Indian jingle. Next, present those typical gym scenes so associated with the ‘Asian boyz’ of the 21st century and then, to be obvious, immediately begin talks of an impending marriage; but to mix it up, let’s also bring in an awkward (and the only) non-Indian guy saying ‘it’ll be fun to see this all [the wedding] happening ha ha… and I get to eat all the Indian food’. I’ve seen many bad openers to TV shows, but this has got to rank as the worst yet.

Let’s also discuss how Chadha’s aims as a filmmaker have often been rooted in changing those pigeonholed views of contemporary British Asians. In a recent interview, she claimed that the cast of Desi Rascals “have no issues with being bicultural. My generation had to fight for that space. We had to say: ‘We are British and we are Indian, and this is how we do it”. But in the show, how does the 21st century Indian really do it? Now, the opening episode didn’t waste time and tapped into the most stereotypical Indian image: a big, lavish wedding, while other cast members were mostly seen engaging in some form of exercise including a disastrous scene by the pool featuring the most embarrassing dialogue ever: ‘I am the best swimmer in the land bruv… I’m like a brown dolphin in that water mate”. This was holding-my-head-in-my-hands-and-wishing-I-could-drown TV.

Chadha goes on to claim that “my job is to make sure we are visible, we are out there in our three-dimensional ways, we are part and parcel of the world, and we go with the world”. But how far did her three-dimensionalism go in the show? The characters lacked substance and were immediately set up as stereotypes that I am sure Chadha should be erasing considering her more privileged position as a British Indian director. She should be the mouthpiece for erasing long-established, constricting views of how Indians live in Britain, and though she might have showed we can speak the English language, her and Wood did little else with the show that was memorable or unique. We have to remember that as a South Asian audience, the little light shed on us involves cinema such as Bend It Like Beckham, East is East and more recently, BBC One’s TV show Citizen Khan. All of these ultimately induce laughter at our ‘funny’ values and how overly traditional and patriarchal some Asian families can be, while failing to show the sheer progress we have made to embrace ourselves as British Indians attached to both cultures in distinct and personal ways, while also existing as separate from any culture at all too. And herein lies the problem: multiculturalism is still stuck in its 1980s definition and no one is making moves to change it, especially for British Asians.

Of course, there has been only one episode thus far, but as the scenes flick between humourless conversation, show characters lacking any kind of screen presence and create a generally uncomfortable atmosphere, then what you get is visible British Asians who have been offered a fantastic platform to redefine themselves yet still cannot escape outdated ideas such as those related to Indian women spending a large majority of their time looking for men to marry, as well as their dutiful roles of making dinner and tea while the men kick back and relax. Oh, and we can’t forget the frustrating joke that Indians are always late. It’s simply not that funny.

What was interesting was the representation of gay British Asians, which could definitely make for captivating TV since this has never been given much exposure. To get an angle on this would be interesting, but I worry that the format of a scripted reality TV show is perhaps not the best way to tackle this.

The humour in Desi Rascals is clichéd, the representation of Indians is stereotypical and the show overall does not enlighten, let alone entertain. At a time when British Asians are desperately trying to shed ourselves from restricted ideas about our reality, Desi Rascals shoves it right back down our throats and forces us to laugh at those same screw-the-lightbulb-and-pat-on-the-dog ideas again. I for one am sick of seeing British Asians made to look like humourless, dumbed-down fools on TV. We’re better than that.

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28 thoughts on “‘Desi Rascals’ reinforces age-old Asian stereotypes.

  1. A few more episodes watched and I still agree whole heartedly with this article. What a waste of opportunity. So disappointed and embarrassed!

  2. I think the casting of the girls chosen is a mistake, they seem to be made in chelsea wannabes with the exception of Jo and Natalie – humourless and try hards..

    I do think the storylines showing the family’s struggle with cast and marriage in their day is interesting and adds heart to the show.

    Also, I wonder why the majority of the cast is light skinned? I’m a light skinned Indian woman and feel they may have white washed the show a little to appeal to commissioners which is a shame.

    1. I agree, I do feel the show is based loosely on imitating what the folks in Made in Chelsea too, and like you said, it comes across as extremely fake. Of course it is scripted reality but they’re bad at making that work. I suppose I understand that the story-line involving a family struggle and marriage issues is endearing, but I think it could easily move away from that and focus on something more ‘now’, perhaps? And wow yes, great point to raise. I never even thought of the light-skinned issue, and I myself am not the fairest of them all. I’ve thought about this and completely agree with you – no one wants to see dark Indians, so they’ve made sure everyone is literally glowing on screen for more appeal, yes. Thank you for reading and commenting, Lila!

      1. Yeah, I agree – the whole Asian marriage thing has been flogged to death! Would be great to see more 3 dimensional characters and themes – they definitely made a mistake with the casting! Maybe they went too light in many ways haha!

      2. I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. A lot more could have been done, and right now it seems like a shoddy attempt at trying to get Indians to appear like Made in Chelsea / TOWIE folks, which means they lose their authenticity and have no substance. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. Way too serious & overly critical review. ‘Stereotypes’ are part & parcel of ‘scripted reality’ shows,be it Towie, Made in Chelsea or Desi Rascals & are indeed entwined in the fabric of everyday life practices & communications. The trick is to engage across social & cultural divisions ‘inspite’ of those stereotypes. Toward this aim, it’s an achievement that the characters in Desi Rascals are being addressed & spoken about in terms of their ‘names’ (as opposed to ethnicity) by non-Asians. It’s a tiny step but let’s go with it.

    1. Stereotypes always need to be broken down and I think it’s definitely needed for British Asians since we’ve been pigeonholed and now can’t break out. Scripted reality doesn’t necessarily have to be enforcing stereotypes as such – in fact any genre needn’t do that. I take your view into consideration however – perhaps the show may incline towards something more refreshing, but it is indeed a ‘tiny step’ as you said, and for someone like Chadha and Wood, this could have really punctured the pretensions of stereotypes.

      1. Give it time, the series has just begun,it’s important to draw as wide an audience as possible before cultural dictates & preconceptions are torn down.

        I disagree that the show simply conforms to stereotypes & disagree about the disdain in your article shown towards ‘weddings’ or the colours splattered across the opening credits….why does that have to be perceived as problematic?! What would be your desired alternative?

        Personally, I think the show is attempting to display the complexities & differentials within the ‘Asian Community’ in terms of gender,class,culture & age. That’s a first!

        Dr Nishi Chopra

      2. There has been a lot of episodes within the series for change to have been made and as far as I can see, it’s a little lacklustre. In some ways stereotypes might be broken, but the picture that is being painted offers no substance for me. It is a mimicking of other reality TV shows – and yes Wood works on TOWIE, but that didn’t need to be filtered into a British Asian audience who in my view, are appearing to aspire to those ideals which in turn, doesn’t really show British Asians as doing something worthy with their life. It’s not problematic that a wedding was shown in the first episode and that holi colours were splattered in the opening credits, but I do feel this has been drawn out in relation to Brit Asians for far too long – we’re simply MORE than that. A desired alternative would be anything other than that, basically. Your last sentence I may agree with a little, but it remains a little lacklustre for me nonetheless.

  4. Actually Nishi it’s not a first. A few years back channel 4 did a series called The Family (I think) it was less refined but I think it was more raw and honest than this.

    There are some characters in Desi Rascals which are relatable to but as a whole I think they’ve wasted an oppertunity to show the diversity of being Desi. The fact that it’s being compared to TOWIE and the likes of those shows doesn’t fill me with much pride.

    Aswell as skin colour I have noticed there are no Sikhs on the show. I wonder why.

    Also Nishi, why the need to sign off “Dr”? Surely your opinions can stand on their own and be taken on board without the title.

    1. Oh dear Kiran…I sense anger here?! Whatever happened to constructive discussion & debate whilst retaining a sense of perspective?

      I have no idea why there aren’t any Sikhs (yet) & what’s your point here..you seem to be alluding to a sinister reason? I haven’t seen any Hindu Punjabis yet but then maybe there are some …I haven’t been seeking out representation.

      As for the signing off with Dr…well that’s a part of me & something I’ve worked for & achieved so will use as & when I please. As it happens, I was marking some student essays this morning where my title is required on assessment sheets so was simply in that ‘mode’. My earlier post didn’t include the title.

      Hope this explanation is ok with you.

  5. By the way, one of the makers of Desi rascals also did Towie & of course there are going to be comparisons with Towie & Made in Chelsea…hardly the end of the world.

    1. No anger what so ever. You should feel proud of your achievements. Just felt including it in your second more argumentative post was a way of trying to give extra strength to your argument. Came across a little condescending.

      The “sikh” thing is nothing sinister at all. I just feel by not including them or Hindu punjabis for that matter we can’t really say that the show is highlighting british Asians diverse cultures and traditions that you have pointed out.

      My intentions are only to have constructive discussion and debate. I find everyone’s opinions on this show interesting, if nothing else at least it is getting people talking about British Asians. I just hope they are positive conversations, as a british Asian I have been the target of negativity and hope this show doesn’t strengthen people’s missguided beliefs on who British asians truely are.

    2. Also never said it was the end of the world, I’m not that dramatic. Again just my opinion. Sorry if I offended you with my previous post

      1. Howdy!

        We ran into a problem with your recent comment reply by email:

        “Argumentative? Condescending? Dr title giving extra strength to argument? Sorry, you are completely off the mark on all counts but if that\’s your opinion…so be it.

        As said in my earlier post,in response to the author\’s article, the show has just got off the ground,let\’s give it some time to include various facets of \’Asianness\’, be that in terms of different religious/ethnic groups or whatever else. Personally, I feel the show is trying to move beyond simply reductive religious/cultural notions of \’being British Asian\’ towards multilayered realities that also include gender,age & class not to mention just being ‘Jo’ or ‘Shoymel’ etc. Further, on a practical level, it’s likely to be a hard task trying to include each & every Asian contingent given the vast differentials involved.

        I think a lot of British Asians (along with a lot of non-Asians) have been/are the target of negativity, myself included. Unfortunately that’s the harsh legacy of being born & brought up in a country rooted in imperialism. Shows like Desi Rascals are unlikely to alter that landscape in any groundbreaking way yet are refreshing in the sense that after a long time, non-Asians are commenting on Asians in terms that are not just sealed by culture or ethnicity & I think that is a tiny but positive step.

        I also feel that the producers are attempting to break out of conventional representations of Asians hence my original post that the programme review was overly critical. I don’t think I’ve seen a stuttering,witty,confident 6ft plus British Asian personal trainer on a ‘mainstream’ tv channel before or a divorced Asian mum.

        The holy grail for me is when a separate ‘Asian Towie/MIC’ is not needed but until then, I intend to keep watching because it’s an entertaining tv show with the added bonus of issues that I can identify with…plain & simple. Speaking of which…I missed tonight’s show as was completely & utterly gripped by EastEnders!

        Dr 🙂 Nishi Chopra

  6. Wow! Ok, I’m going to step back from this. Like I said, didn’t mean to offend. If you want to paint all my comments in a negative, aggressive light that is your choice. Enjoy the show.

  7. lol for gods sake stop this nonsence chat – just watch what happens. I actually salute the people who have made the programme. At least they are attempting to show some reality about some of the asian community. No there are no sikh people in there but the director is a sikh woman and she had made Bend it like Beckham and that was based on a sikh family.

    some of the girls are Essexsy but what the hack. there are all sorts of people in this world and they cannot show everyone persons reality in there!!!!

    Tina

  8. I love Desi Rascals,it’s fun & refreshing. It needs to be taken with a pinch of salt just like made in Chelsea & the only way is Essex which I love too. Good on Gurinder for coming up with something in this genre.

  9. Oh I see so just comments that agree with the author plus those that attempt to attack/undermine intelligent comments are published. What a complete farce!

    Thank you for choosing to omit my comments that disagreed with yours & agreed with Dr Chopra’s. Very interesting that you chose to keep Asha’s pathetic comment in!

    1. ‘Pathetic’ – hardly! So obvious that’s what had been done it’s laughable! And as for ‘undermining’ oh so ‘intelligent’ comments – pot kettle dear learned Professor..

  10. Not sure what the ‘stereotypes’ are in the show being alluded to. Be good if this accusation was backed up a little. I found it a highly refreshing take on representing the uk Asian community- liberal parents, stories not centred on generational conflict, no arranged marriage, religion dialled down, a healthy dose of guilt free sexuality. Any conflicts are lightly framed within a social/ sexual/ familial context- natural outcroppings from the characters- they don’t feel cynically imposed on the narrative as ‘Asian issues’. I for one found the series a delight. And what other TV series, Asian or not, would give centre stage to a character with a stutter and not even make a big deal out of it? Accusation of ‘stereotype’ is quite ridiculous.

  11. I saw them filming in a park in pinner (the one near lidl). It looked funny lol.

    Great article though- and you hit all the right spots!

    🙂
    -Lena

  12. Give it a rest people, if you want real Desi’s, turn to star plus or go to Southall, I’m sure there’s more substance for authentic desiness on the Broadway.

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