The Fob and I is a new web-comedy about Sita and Jisha, Indian cousins living together in Los Angeles. Sita (Shefali Deshay) has lived her whole life in America and is cynical, prone to sarcasm, and can be culturally insensitive; Jisha (Uttera Gautam) is a FOB from India who is outgoing, bubbly, and very excited about experiencing what America has to offer. It’s smart, fresh, funny, and offers viewers multi-dimensional brown characters while debunking stereotypes. The series will be a delight to South-Asians everywhere, but is about more than being Indian; writer/director Meenakshi Ramamurthy knows that the show will also appeal to audience members from other cultural backgrounds through its complex representation of female friendship and other universal themes. We spoke with Meenakshi about the conception, process, audience, and future of The Fob and I, among some other things:
Where did the idea for The Fob and I come from? How did it develop?
I started to meet more Indians from India, and they were much more liberal than me. I would think, “Wait a minute, I thought it was supposed to be the other way around?” A lot of first generation Indians like myself were raised by parents in the mindset of an India in 1970s and 80s, and that mindset never really saw India progress. When my parents saw something they didn’t like happening in America, they’d blame it on that “American nonsense.” But the reality was their India was shifting without them there to see it.
So I thought, “What if we flipped the stereotype on Indians and reflected what was actually happening?” We created the character Jisha, who is fresh off the boat, but more progressive and outgoing than her American counterpart. She is ready to see what the world has to offer, but naïve to its realities. Sita, her cousin who has spent her whole life in America, is totally over it. She cynical but helpless, too snarky to admit she’s held back by the conservative ideas she was raised on. Together, both women are able to understand their own culture and selves better through the others’ perspective.
Are you drawing the characters out of any real-life experiences?
As an Indian American I’ve encountered a lot of the situations the girls deal with on the show. Unfortunately, I don’t usually have a Bollywood dance sequence to get me through them. Really, a lot about growing up as a minority in America is fumbling with the expectations of two cultures. When you do right by one, you can do wrong by the other. As a kid I remember, I was asked how I got rid of acne on my face, and then how weirded out my friends were when I told them I smeared turmeric on it. My hope is that the series is accessible but also educational. In a five-minute webisode you can explore the challenges and richness of South Asian culture. To me, that beats watching a dancing cat.
How do you keep The Fob and I relatable for South-Asians while also making it accessible to others? Do you have a target audience?
We really try to focus on creating conflict from everyday experiences: getting chai at a coffee shop, signing up for a marathon, prepping for an online date. In addition, a lot of the show’s relatable qualities stem from the characters’ strong female friendship. Uttera and Shefali’s chemistry has kept the performances of Jisha and Sita alive and away from caricature. In order to make that friendship feel real on screen, the friendship behind the scenes has to be real as well. I was very fortunate to work with my co-writer, Natalie Stone, our producer, Noopur Sinha, and our editor, Faroukh Virani. The show is a result of a team that understands the ups and downs of a real relationship—trying to make a joke about socks be a symbol for identity, choreographing a musical in two days, and staying up til 4am to cut it in way that makes all those jokes land. When you finally have an audience of mostly non-Indians that laughs at the right moments and empathizes with your characters, you know you’ve made a show rooted in something real from the ground up.
“A lot about growing up as a minority in America is fumbling with the expectations of two cultures. When you do right by one, you can do wrong by the other.”
While the target audience is female Indian Americans, we’ve found that when we created complex characters, they became more relatable to everyone. The show really speaks to anyone who’s ever felt like a fish out of water.
In the 3 episodes that are available right now, you’ve focused on female friendship and the development of a cultural identity. You’ve also tackled cultural appropriation, stereotypes about food and behavior, and created two separately complex brown girl characters – more than any North American show with or starring brown people right now. Some of those are long running themes, but what other issues do you hope to address through the series?
More than anything, The Fob and I is about bringing an accurate portrayal of South Asians to the screen. Though both leads are Indian cousins, Sita and Jisha have been raised under incredibly different circumstances and are very different women. With these two Indian protagonists, we had the ability to show how complex Indian identity can be, even within itself. We had the opportunity to say, “Hey, just because there’s two brown characters on screen, that doesn’t mean they’re the same person or represent the same things.”
One of the hardest things about South Asian culture is that there is so much that isn’t appropriate for public discussion. Watching Sita and Jisha in their apartment is an intimate look at the Indian experience in America—one that isn’t always the perfect doctor, engineer or spelling bee champ. We can see them take on difficult South Asian issues that just aren’t being talked about. We look forward to future episodes being a forum that opens up communication in the Indian community and empowers Indian women. How do South Asians deal with depression? How do they communicate with their families? How do they explain sexuality? And, most of all, how can South Asians feel at home in country that never feels fully theirs?
“More often than not, Priyanka, Mindy, and Aziz just “happen” to be Indian, and usually it’s just for one episode… with The Fob and I, we don’t have to wait for that one-off episode.”
Personally, are you more like the character of Sita or Jisha?
As a writer, there’s a piece of you in every character, but admittedly, I’m more of a Sita. I’m lucky that throughout my life I’ve had many Jishas as close friends. They always show me the world is full of possibilities—however scary that world might be.
With Mindy Kaling’s show seeing a continuation on Hulu, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and of course, Priyanka Chopra on Quantico, there are more South-Asians starring in North American TV than ever. What does this mean to you?
I think it’s great to see so many South Asian faces on screen. While I might not always agree wholeheartedly with the depictions we’re seeing, having a small presence is a start for a community that has been such large part of the U.S. for a long time. Television and entertainment are ways for our society to see what’s accepted, and I’m really happy that South Asians are beginning to be a part of that landscape.
However, these South Asian protagonists often leave out the cultural identity of their characters. More often than not, Priyanka, Mindy, and Aziz just “happen” to be Indian, and usually it’s just for one episode. While this allows us to accept Indians in our daily life, it leaves out the complexity of our culture.
With The Fob and I, the main source of conflict is rooted in our characters’ identity. We don’t have to wait for that one-off episode. Every episode is a chance to explore the South Asian experience in America.
What does the future of The Fob and I look like?
What’s really exciting about the next season is that the girls have switched roles. Jisha finally realizes the harsh realities of America and Sita starts to see the beauty in it. We look forward to showing the growth in our characters and taking on issues other series just aren’t talking about. There’ll be more chai, more music, and definitely more brown!
You can watch The Fob and I for free here.