You’re sitting in your lounge and the beat comes on. You aren’t just humming to the tune but find yourself knowing all the words, murmuring them softly…
‘Our whole universe was in a hot, dense state
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started, wait.
The earth began to cool, the autotrophs began to drool
Neanderthals developed tools
We built a wall (we built the pyramids)
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries
That all started with the big bang! Hey!’
On 24 September 2007 geeks around the world found a TV show they could relate to when Big Bang Theory premiered. The show gained a cult following almost immediately (not just with geeks) and now, 10 seasons later, Raj, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Penny, Amy and Bernadette have become global stars. “Most of the characters find themselves in a constant battle, “co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre told TshisaLIVE in an interview.
Probably one of the characters who has faced the biggest mountains to overcome is Raj. Played by the immensely funny and talented Kunal Nayyar, Raj has been mute, can only talk to women when he is drunk, often embarks on long periods of silence and has recently tried to become more independent by cutting himself off from his wealthy parents back home in India. And he sat down with TshisaLIVE editor Jess Levitt to talk about, well, anything.
P.S You know he’s a nice guy when you aren’t given a list of barred questions by the PR company ahead of the scheduled interview. Not that he has any scandals, mind you. Kunal is pretty laid back despite reportedly making $1million an episode and season ten proving the shows dominance as one of the highest-rated TV shows on network TV in the US. Again.
Kunal, who was born in India, grew up in London and moved to the US, is quiet casual about his mega-stardom. You know, even replying with a ‘I’m fine and you.’ Gasp! An extraordinary reaction for an A-lister. And it only got better…
TshisaLIVE: Big Bang Theory is hugely popular in SA. The obvious first question, which is probably universal, is whether Raj will find love?
Kunal Nayyar: (Laughs) I know. Look, I’ll tell you whether he finds love or he doesn’t find love, he’s not going to stop trying. If he wants to find love, it’s probably not going to be easy. It probably won’t go well.
TL: Leonard and Penny are married, Sheldon has proposed to Amy and Bernie and Howard have a child, so it’s really only Raj who has been left out.
KN: I don’t mind him being single. I think it’s great.
TL: He still has Cinnamon (his dog) though…
KN: Exactly. (Pauses) I don’t know if Raj would like it if I said that.
TL: A lot of people have compared your real-life story, one you spoke about in your book, being a nerdy guy who wins the beauty queen, transcending into the show. Can you see that happening?
KN: Why not? I think he’s charming and handsome, just like the actor who plays him. I think he will just do very well for himself. (Laughs) That’s not going to translate into print. Don’t write that. Sarcasm never translates into print.
TL: Nah, we’re a cool title in South Africa so you’re good. Another fan theory that has popped up is the fact that Raj seems to be pushing for a split between Leonard and Penny… or is he just being his usual flippant self?
KN: I don’t think he’s doing that on purpose. I think he’s just jostling with them. You know, all the guys always make fun of Leonard and think that Penny is too good for him and will leave him one of these days. But I think he’s just joking.
TL: There was a lot of speculation about whether the show was coming to an end and then season ten wiped the floor with ratings and two more seasons were renewed… what do you want to see Raj achieve before the end does arrive?
KN: It would be clichéd to say I wish he finds love with a life partner and soul mate. But the truth is I’d really like him to find himself. Wouldn’t it be great if a character who couldn’t talk to women and was the most socially anxious of all the people is the one who ends up being the most evolved?
TL: Exactly! Raj has been on a massive journey: from being mute to breaking away from the chains of his parents and their wealth – what do you think his ultimate lesson will be?
KN: Wow, that’s such a deep question. I have no idea. If it was up to Raj, he just wants a family. He wants children to molly-coddle. He wants to be surrounded by love and hugs … that’s his whole life. That’s all he wants. Just absolute affection.
TL: We know that as the cast of the Big Bang Theory is one of the tightest and closest in Hollywood. You even fought for each other to get pay rises. What makes you such a close group?
KN: We all have personalities that are generous and loving and inclusive. We understand that, as a group, we protect each other and that all stems from a deep affection and deep caring of each other. If one link falls short on a show like this it can disrupt the chemistry. We are always prepared and we are very serious about how hard we work to make this show as funny as we can. That starts with every single person and when you see everyone have that responsibility it makes you work harder and be there. Not just in filming but as friends and family.
TL: 10 seasons and going strong: what’s the biggest lesson from working on the show?
KN: The greatest lesson is to understand what is real and what isn’t. With experience, you can realise how to live this life with a lot of gratitude and a lot of humility. And a lot of understanding that a show like this comes once in a lifetime. And to enjoy it. Be in the moment and enjoy it. It’s easy for you to live in a fantasy world and wake up one day and realise you weren’t present at all
TL: Do you learn humility or do you reckon that you’ve always been a humble guy considering your background?
KN: I was brought up to understand humility. I grew up in India where there’s a lot of poverty and a great divide between the rich and poor, so I was taught a lot of great lessons at a young age. Sometimes, I started the show when I was 26, it’s very overwhelming, and you’re young and you can lose your way. But I’m lucky I have wonderful parents, Chuck Lorre has been a great mentor, the cast have been incredibly kind and generous with their time and we’ve all go through ups and downs in our lives and we have each other. That’s the most important thing.
s in our lives and we have each other. That’s the most important thing.
TL: You told Ellen (DeGeneres) in an interview recently that you almost fainted when you met the queen. Is there anybody else you reckon you’d have that reaction to?
KN: Barack Obama, LeBron James or Sachin Tendulkar. I never grew in physical stature to be an athlete, although I always wanted to be one. So, when I meet athletes I get very star-struck.
TL: SA has a massive Indian community. One of the questions from readers was whether you can cook a lamb curry or briyani?
KN: I’m not a good cook. I can’t cook briyani or lamb curry but I do love Indian food, which I just call food. I love eating it so when I come to South Africa I hear that it’s got some of the best Indian food in the world, so I’m very excited.
TL: You’re coming to SA?
KN: I don’t have any immediate plans. But I’m sure at some point in the next five or ten years I’m going to make my way to SA.
TL: Right. Back to food. In SA it’s an Indian specialty to eat bunny chow. Have you heard of it?
KN: I did an interview yesterday with a South African journalist and I found out what it was. It’s bread and you take the top off the bread and put curry inside and put the bread on top and eat it?
KN: That sounds like heaven.
TL: How do you celebrate Diwali in your house?
KN: We open the house, we clean the house, we open all the windows, we make rangoli (Indian sweets) we drink, we eat, we gamble and we invite all our friends. It’s always an amazing thing.
A women jumps onto the line.
TL: You’ve said you are aware that you can lose this fame thing at any time. You’re not going to go back to waiting tables, but what would you do if fame suddenly disappeared?
KN: Oh man. What would I do? I would just walk the streets anonymously. I would just go into local pubs and hang out with the local people. It just becomes a little tricky because of the popularity of the show to immerse yourself the way I want to. Just logistically it becomes tricky. It’ll be funny though, when you lose your (fame) I’ll be like ‘no-one is coming up to hug me.’ It’s a very dichotomous thing I’m going to have to face.