By Monica Luhar
India-West Staff Reporter
He’s got plenty of tween energy, even after he gorges down on spicy chicken wings at the local Frycade, witnesses the “world’s first butt transplant,” and participates in barfing adventures with his talking snake pal and best bud Craig.
Meet 12-year-old Sanjay Patel, a curious, socially awkward, and energetic Indian-American boy who is always on the lookout for new adventures, in Nickelodeon’s animated television show, “Sanjay and Craig,” which premiered May 25.
“When I was a kid, I don’t remember seeing people who looked like me on television, so I’m really excited to be playing a character who is Indian American on this TV show,” actor Maulik Pancholy, who voices Sanjay, told India-West in an exclusive interview.
The animated television show follows the story of Sanjay, who becomes best buddies with a snake after meeting him at a local pet store. The two pals create their own secret world, often taking part in some of the wackiest adventures, “amped to the nth power,” as Pancholy notes.
Sanjay’s buddy Craig has unique traits that allow him to wrap himself around objects, disguise himself as a doctor, swallow animals, and rocks out in a T-shirt and baseball cap. These traits, paired with Sanjay’s curiosity, are essentially what allow the two to seek crazy adventures – one of which involves the “world’s first butt transplant” in an episode, “Brett Venom MD.”
“The cool thing about the relationship between Sanjay and Craig is that although Craig is his pet snake, from Sanjay’s point of view, Craig is basically just another 12-year-old kid. They get to do everything together,” said Pancholy, who has also had parts in NBC comedy series “30 Rock” and movies such as “Hitch” and “27 Dresses.”
Currently, 20 episodes have been produced, some of which include comedic titles like “Maximum Denis,” “Laugh Quake,” and “Unbarfable” — an episode where Sanjay and Craig try to see who can do the grossest things without barfing. For that episode, Pancholy had the opportunity to record barfing sounds with Chris Hardwick (voice of Craig) and Matt Jones (voice of Hector).
Pancholy has also had the opportunity to work with other well-known actors on the animated show, including Linda Cardellini (best known for her role as Lindsay in “Freaks and Geeks”) and Kunal Nayyar (Raj from “The Big Bang Theory”), who plays Sanjay’s dad.
“We have been friends since before this show, so it’s super fun to have him [Nayyar] on the show, and it’s kind of ridiculous that he’s playing my dad, age-wise. But yeah, he’s great, he’s doing a much deeper voice than I’m doing on the show,” Pancholy told India-West.
Although the representation of South Asian actors on television shows and movies has significantly increased in the past few decades, Pancholy believes there is still a long way to go.
“I think in some ways, there’s a long way to go in terms of representation on TV and lead roles, and the sort of accurate representations,” he said.
But Pancholy says that there is an interesting snowball effect happening in the television and movie industries, with more individuals from the millennial generation entering the arts field, often taking on lead roles and creative executive positions.
“My generation, and generations younger than me, were able to go into the arts field in a way that people of my parents’ generation or the in-between generation, that wasn’t an option for them. They didn’t come here thinking it was something they could do,” explained Pancholy.
Pancholy, who also plays the voice of Baljeet in Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb,” told India-West he knew he wanted to become an actor ever since he was a child, but that he never imagined he’d be doing voices on cartoons.
As a child, Pancholy recalls watching his favorite Saturday morning cartoons like “Scooby Doo,” “The Jetsons,” and the ultimate classic, “Tom and Jerry.” Now, he’s ecstatic about entertaining kids and making them laugh over some of the adventures that Sanjay and Craig have.
“The cool thing about kids’ shows is that it creates a space where kids can escape into this imaginative world and they become cartoon characters in a way. I hope that they will take away that it is possible do to a butt transplant, and that they’ll go out and practice to see who can barf first with their friends,” said Pancholy.
Pancholy just recently wrapped up the last season of “30 Rock” in January. For Pancholy, every day on set was a “lesson in comedy and in acting.”
“Working with Tina Fey and Alec [Baldwin] was amazing and I’m very sad that the show is over; we had an incredible run…Tina is amazing and super smart, and one of the nicest people you can ever meet,” Pancholy said.
“Everyone always hopes for that magic coming together that happens every now and then on the TV show, where the writing, the characters and casting — all of it just comes together in a way that is just magic.”
Pancholy, who served on the jury of the South Asian International Film Festival in New York for a few years, says he would be open to acting in either Bollywood or starring in children’s movies, if the opportunity presents itself.
Pancholy explained to India-West that although his character is Indian American, ethnicity is not a central part of the plotline.
“What’s interesting about Sanjay and Craig is that Sanjay is Indian American and his dad is Indian, and his mom is American, but that’s sort of not the point, which is exciting.”
“We’re not exploring what it’s like to be an Indian American kid. We’re exploring what it’s like to be a 12-year-old kid, who happens to be Indian American. I think that’s sort of exciting because we’re getting to this place where ethnicity and race – we’re not ignoring them or shying away from it, but we’re also saying that it’s not as important.” (end)
“Sanjay and Craig” airs Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. For more information, visit www.nick.com.
Monica Luhar is a staff reporter with India-West. To read more stories from India-West, visit www.indiawest.com.