Saturday, May 13, 2017
Friday, January 6, 2017
Tomorrow we release the final episode of Critical Mass. For those of you who watched Desi OC ten years ago and wanted a reunion episode, this is as close as it’s going to get.
I started the series last year with my friend Lak Rana completely out of boredom. Actors in L.A. know how soul crushing it is to wait around for auditions so you can hang out with 90 people at 200 South LaBrea. I quit my day job and was hanging out in New Hampshire, debating getting a job as a Walmart greeter. I called Lak in L.A., “Hey, we should shoot something?” And so it began, our third web series.
With zero crew, the series consisted of us setting up shots on tripods and holding the camera on each other. If you rewatch old episodes, our eye line is off and things are out of focus. Many times Lak is acting by himself and running his lines to nobody while I’m holding the camera. We started including guest stars from friends who showed up on their free time (who all did a great job, and I owe a debt of gratitude) and we pushed ourselves to shoot in challenging locations.
The views were whatever. We didn’t care. The point was to make something, use stories from our real lives and be ourselves. I’ve learned over the years, the trick to living in L.A., is to consistently generate content but also ignore everyone who tells you what’s wrong with it.
For the final episode, I recruited the director of Desi OC, Atif Mirza, and many familiar faces from the original series. I'm really happy with how it turned out and you can watch all the previous episodes on YouTube where it will be forever preserved for future generations. Excited for what’s next…
(cut to me in Walmart)
Saturday, May 14, 2016
A few years ago, I went on a quest for something. I want to say inner peace but that sounds stupid so I'm just going to go with "something." I wasn't happy and needed change.
I had a hard time relating to my friends, (which I would later find out I was “judging”) and decided to turn my world upside down. I stopped hanging out with people and going to places I didn't want to be at, I stopped trying to live in a fake reality that things were awesome when they weren’t, I started doing spiritual shit, (I even checked into a Buddhist colony for a weekend) I got a day job, I started doing jiu-jitsu and got chocked out by men who could kill me, I stopped trying to find “the one”and dated girls who weren’t South Asians with graduate degrees. Also, I decided I would read every self-help book I could get my hands on. Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, J. Krishnamurti, really anybody who talks slow and looks like they’re stoned. I also watched countless YouTube TedTalks, even the ones given by19 year olds who barely have life experiences and claim profound wisdom. The list goes on…
You know what I discovered after all this? Something that I’m about to tell you for free, which took me years of over-analyzing to realize. NOTHING. That’s right. That’s what I learned… THERE IS NO ANSWER. Every problem I had or will have is just stuff I make up in my head. THE-END. I think the greatest spiritual masters guide you into letting you discover this on your own and anyone who tells you how to live life needs to be pushed off a cliff immediately. I wish I could tell my 20 year-old self that. It would have prevented me from doing a world of dumb things, but I guess this was all part of my journey. I try to catch my thoughts now before I get sucked into a blackhole. Some days are good. Some days I want to kill everybody.
This is just my opinion. I could be way off, and that's fine too. I rarely tell my friends any of this because it's not my business. This is what has helped me, and I wanted to write this in case somebody is struggling with their own demons.
Oh yeah, and be authentic. That’s helped a lot too. Tell people straight up how you feel, whether you hurt their feelings or not. I know that sounds messed up, but I think living in a false identity can create despair and being honest with your words and intentions can improve your life immensely. And see a therapist. I haven't done this and can't recommend, but I've heard cool things about this as well.
I’m going to go drink coffee. That makes me happy.
Friday, March 27, 2015
I'll be releasing the final episode of “The Adventures of Rinku & Dinesh” episode 4 tomorrow. Is it the best thing I’ve ever made? No. I would go so far to say that it’s probably one of the most retarded web series currently on YouTube. Whether you find it funny or not, that's subjective, but I'm proud that we finished it.
I don’t think people realize how HARD it is to make things when you have no money. Finding talented actors, securing locations, writing scripts, directing shots and editing footage is extremely difficult. Give me an idea, and I’ve always been able to somehow force it into existence while simultaneously wanting to kill myself.
A few years ago, I decided I was done. I stopped caring what anybody thought of me, which actually became liberating. I let go of all my agents, disbanded my production company and got a full time job.
For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to put this giant Bobby Khan movie poster (which I produced) on my bedroom wall. Every morning when I was putting on my suit and tie for work, I stared at this poster and recalled the amount of effort and miracles that went behind making it. I remembered WHY I put the poster up in the first place. Anything is possible.
When the Disney movie “The Million Dollar Arm” came out. My friend Lak and I made an audition video where we pretended to be the two Indians who came to America to play baseball. The producers of the movie will see it and have no choice but to cast us! It was intended to be serious but it had to be the worst, unintentionally hilarious, audition videos ever created. We looked like we were doing a horrible Saturday Night Live sketch and laughed our asses off at how terrible we were in it. I remember telling Lak, we should make a comedy web series about these Indian guys and then never talked about it again.
Being a masochist, I had a creative impulse to make something again. Lak mentioned to me, “Whatever happened to that Rinku and Dinesh idea?” The problem was, I didn’t have my production crew anymore and had ZERO resources. Lak insisted “Dude, you don’t need anyone." He was right, having no resources means nothing when you have great friends.
Every weekend for the next several months, me and some comedy/actor friends would shoot Rinku & Dinesh. Yes, producing still sucks, but it’s a lot more fun when you have no expectations. I did all the pre-production, used lapel microphones, and when I was in the shot, I would give the camera for somebody else to hold. I didn’t care what the actors said as long as it was funny and the story moved forward.
Joe, the baseball manager, Tanya, the hooker, Chris, the angry cop. Everybody was hilarious in their own unique way and made additional contributions. John Kviklys made the “Wanted” poster, Lak got guns and recruited two Mexican actors from his acting class. I remember one time I wrote a draft, and in place of the dialogue I put, "Chris, come up with something funny here." Wendi costume designed her entire wardrobe while Brian came up with the "Hold Up, Wait a Minute" catchphrase. The list goes on...
I want to stress that everybody worked for FREE and woke their ass up on Sunday mornings to shoot in random locations across L.A. No egos involved and everyone brought 100%
I write this for aspiring filmmakers. You don’t need money to shoot stuff. I see Kickstarters all the time, "I need X amount of money so I can shoot my web series or movie so I can hire this DP from USC and this lighting guy." I want to slap these people. The past ten years, I’ve shot two web series, numerous shorts and a feature movie with no budget. What I DO have is basic filmmaking skills, (which is attainable), a decent work ethic, and amazing friends.
I’m not saying what you make will look great. In fact, your first couple attempts will probably suck. BUT THAT'S OK. We're living in a day and age where it doesn't have to be perfect, and there's an audience for everything. It's your responsibility to take a chance on yourself. Ask your friends for help and then pay it forward. That's pretty much what my entire creative existence is based on. Write, shoot, edit, repeat.
Monday, November 17, 2014
With the release of every Desi OC, back to back on YouTube, I thought I would blog about the show. It’s been almost 8 years since we first started the series and ended it a few years later. Although I add everybody on FB, I never answer messages because it’s just too repetitive and people inevitably ask when we're bringing back the show. I hope the following helps!
I remember it clearly. I was working my day job at Showbiz India, a Bollywood entertainment show. I was a host/producer and was watching some footage. Atif, the director of the show, burst in the editing room. “Desi OC has over 100,000 views!”
“That’s impossible. We just uploaded it yesterday.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I was about to find out.
I had moved to L.A. the past year. I was a stand-up comic with seven years under my belt in New York but moved to L.A. to become a comedic actor and continue touring as a stand-up. I soon realized that I hated auditioning and was burned out living in the back of comedy clubs.
I took a job at a small cable show where I met Atif Mirza, the director of “Showbiz India.” He wanted to direct features, and I wanted to act. We decided to collaborate and use a weekend to make a short film about our experiences growing up Indian American.
We never intended to make DOC a web series. Take note, this was back in 2006. YouTube was NOT the online juggernaut that it is today. There was no such thing as “online personalities” or channels with 9 million subscribers. It was just a place where you could throw shit against the wall and everyone could watch.
And so it began. With zero money and years of film school between the both of us, Atif and I used the camera and mics from work and shot DOC over a weekend. We cast Aarti Maan (Seema) and Lak Rana (Sanjay) off a breakdown and auditioned them at a Starbucks in Toluca Lake. Shazia Deen (Sonal) was a big model. We interviewed her at Showbiz India for a celebrity profile segment so I had her cell phone number. I called and begged her to be a part of the film and she agreed.
Initially, it was just Atif and I, and we wrote a script about dating from a South Asian perspective. It was a subject that we felt was never explored properly and relatable to everybody. I also remember thinking that Indians were always typecast on TV as 7-11 clerks, nerdy supporting characters and whatever. It was cool that we had four attractive South Asians as the leads.
After about a week of rehearsals, shooting and editing, we posted the film online and it quickly hit 100,000 views and counting. We kept the series going through guerrilla filmmaking and continued it for twenty-one episodes.
The response was positive, and we received a lot of support from the online community. We also got a lot of shit from fans because it took us weeks, sometimes months, to release episodes. I think DOC was ahead of its time. We had no concept of the internet’s expedited nature. Specifically, how quickly viewers consume and demand new content. Also, we had a lot of other things going on in our lives and took our time with production because we wanted to make sure every episode was solid.
I learned more shooting DOC then I did during four years at NYU film school. Things like how to convince people to give me locations for free, how to shoot a scene between construction noises, and how to put a YouTube thumbnail of a cast member in a bikini so perverted guys click on it. (DOC 11 has almost a million views!)
Regardless, audiences kept watching, growing and coming back. I didn’t realize the full effect until I was doing a stand-up show in Detroit and got off a plane at 5am. A group of Indian college students ran over and asked to take their picture with me. What was going on?
The South Asian media also took notice. We were contacted by many Indian websites asking to repost our videos and a few newspapers did articles on us. We came close to selling the series as a TV serial in Canada but unfortunately couldn’t negotiate a budget. Eventually, we got sponsored and finally had money to cover our production expenses and stay out of debt, although barely.
I think it was just one of those moments where we had lightning in a bottle. We built an amazing skeleton crew that we jacked from our day job, and in addition to the four principals, we broadened the cast to include other up and coming L.A. actors.
We strived to make a mainstream show that was inherently truthful to being South Asian and portray the essence of who we are. The show content focused on problems of young Indian adults: dating, parents, career, love, religion, sex, sibling relationships, etc… If we experienced it, we put it in a storyline.
DOC was the first of its kind online and there were a lot of copycats who tried to emulate what we did. I was always happy when I saw a spin off because that meant we were inspiring South Asians to have creative lives other than following the traditional doctor or lawyer route.
Like every show, there were some rough spots and our hits dwindled over time. I think this was due to a combination of things. Our sponsors wanted to integrate pre-roll ads, forcing us to release new episodes on our own site instead of YouTube. The writing got a bit over the top, which I, 100% shoulder the blame for. Plus, we weren’t paying the cast and it was really hard to keep everyone together and the storylines cohesive.
IE - People always ask. Whatever happened to Seema’s story and how come she never got together with Sanjay? Well, the truth of the matter is she blew the fuck up momentarily on Big Bang Theory, and I wasn’t going to ask her to shoot for free when she had her career moving. Besides, everyone else was leveraging DOC to do other things and we did the best we could.
I fondly look back at old DOC episodes, and remember how excited I was when we made the series. It taught me to wear “multiple hats,” which I think is essential if you want to work in Hollywood. More importantly, I made a lot of amazing friends. (I hang out with Lak all the time and talk to Shazia at least once a week.) Lastly, making DOC helped me discover who I was, which I think is what your 20’s is all about.
And finally, I don’t know if we’ll ever do DOC reunion. Maybe one day, but I like the fact that it ended in a pleasant way, and the characters live in online immortality.
We started using non-Indian characters in later episodes. I used Whitney Cummings who I knew through stand-up, as one of the supporting characters but scrapped the scene and recast her character because it didn’t work. The next year she got her own NBC show. Um, whoops.
Our sponsor Shaadi.com paid us but the whole deal almost fell through. They got super pissed because in the first sponsored episode, Ajay manipulates Shaadi.com to create a fake profile for himself to pick up chicks.
In DOC 14, Brian kidnaps Sanjay’s stalker Sameena and makes a threatening hostage video. We initially shot that scene outside. One of my neighbors heard the screams, thought the scene was real and called LAPD. A cop showed up with his gun drawn and almost shot Brian!
In DOC 17, my character Ajay pretends to be on crutches. I really was on crutches. I just had surgery and couldn’t walk for three months.
In DOC 18, Manu the Bounty Hunter is played by my real life younger brother, Kunal Shetty.
Although the show “The O.C.” was on, we weren’t trying to do a Bollywood ripoff. We thought the title “Desi OC” was catchy and could justify that it stood for “Desi’s of Orange County” (even though most of it was shot in L.A.).
Here’s a photo from our very first rehearsal!
Sunday, August 10, 2014
We shot for 3 hours at a posh house in San Diego. The campaign was for a Frito Lays Halloween ad. I’m dressed like a pirate, standing in some make believe congo line and holding the shoulder’s of another model who’s dressed like a zombie. The photographer kept yelling, “YOU’RE HAVING MORE FUN!… FUN!”
I grit my teeth and do my best fake laugh. I’m an expert at this and know that this is an easy way to bring out a natural smile on camera. It’s a trick I learned after twelve years of professional modeling. I secretly think, “I’m 30 years old and dressed like a pirate. How did I end up here?”
If you think modeling is just showing up for auditions and smiling and then going to print shoots and more smiling, I have news for you… you’re absolutely correct! If you have a somewhat decent smile (no meth habit), you dropped out of high school, and don’t have any substantive financial plan for the future then you have potential to be a commercial print model!
For me, it started when I was a student at NYU. An agent asked me how tall I was. “Um, 6’2.” (First rule of modeling. Lie. I’m actually 6’0, always lie.)
“Perfect, we’re submitting you for a print job!” I’d like to think it had to do with my amazing looks, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every other South Asian male my age was busy studying organic chemistry. I had no idea what print modeling entailed, but I thought that it would be a good side hustle to make up for my lack of career ambition.
I went to a casting office in mid-town where a guy with a digital camera took my photo and then asked me to turn to the left and then right. The whole thing probably took about twenty seconds. This cathartic experience booked me my first ad and led to years of consistent commercial print bookings. Since then, I’ve done everything from posing for Target catalogues, playing volleyball on the beach, to wearing a turban and driving a cab. The one thing I’ve learned about myself is, I WILL SELL OUT. I’ve been with about six different agents, some better than others, and I think I’ve booked a few hundred jobs, which is pretty good.
Some rules I live by include: I never ask what I’m modeling for or how much I’m getting paid. If my agent says I booked the job I just show up and do whatever they tell me. People expect me to be dumb so I avoid any intelligent conversation and over laugh whenever someone makes a lame joke on set. My neglect to read contracts explains why my image now pops up in places that I would have second thoughts about allowing to license. Most recently, someone said they saw me in a magazine ad that reminded people to get tested for HIV, and another person spotted me on a website that encouraged human scientific testing. (check my FB).
I'm not saying this to brag. In fact, I’m the first to admit that I’ve pretty much failed at everything I’ve attempted in showbusiness and print modeling is the one thing I’ve put ZERO effort into. However, there are some perks. You get to hang out with hot girls most of the time, fly to cool places, and I’ve learned how to flirt with male photographers so they’ll recommend me for more jobs. By the way, I’m NOT gay. They don’t teach you that at Goldman Sachs.
Currently, I’m now in my “dad” modeling phase. Having no offspring, I do shoots with my pretend children. I push my model son down a slide, the photographer yells “RESET,” and we do it all over again. I imagine that this is what fatherhood is like. My dream job is to do a wedding print shoot so I can create a wedding album and tell my nephews and nieces that once upon a time Uncle Tarun had a normal existence and a wedding where everyone was attractive.
I had a spiritual awakening this past year. I’m not claiming to be like Ekhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer, but I’ve noticed that nobody can predict life. I think to achieve success you have to just be in the moment and not worry too much about what happens after that. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve always had an unintended zen approach to modeling. It somehow seemed to work, unlike other things where I tried to strategically plan and coordinate.
A few years ago, I decided that I should probably also get a real job so I don’t end up as a male escort in France. I’ll continue to be a D-level model as long as I can and will always be grateful for the amazing opportunities – easy money and hooking up with girls who were way out of my league in high school. That’s really it. I’m serious. Still, not bad though.
“I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree… Do I know what product I'm selling? No. Do I know what I'm doing today? No. But I'm here, and I'm gonna give it my best shot” – Hansel (Zoolander)
Frito Lays Pirate Ad – footage from iPhone
Friday, March 14, 2014
I like dogs. I don’t have one, but I’ve noticed that L.A. dog owners have a very special relationship with their pets. In a town of highly-dysfunctional beautiful people, dogs have supplanted the human relationship. Single girls have Facebook profile pictures of themselves posing with poodles adorned with pink bows, while guys go hiking with hulking, furry beasts that would probably get mistaken for wolves in other states.
I initially didn’t get it and found most dogs annoying. When I ran up hiking trails, I would trip over free-running dogs who were let off their leash and felt obliged to dart between my legs. There was also the occasional neighbor’s Chihuahua that would bark endlessly into the early morning hours.
And then I got a job. It was a Hollywood job filled with young, driven, career-oriented people. It’s the type of job that sucks your life away in exchange for opportunity. Despite the glamour, I was indifferent to my newfound career. I set a goal to last a year, but soon found myself taking strolls, wondering what the age limit was to become a Navy Seal sniper. Could I kill a man? Yes.
During one particular excursion, I passed a sign that read “Amanda Foundation,” an animal shelter. It's a quaint house with a white picket fence. It seemed like the Beverly Hills home of a B-movie screenwriter, much less that of a place that rescued dogs.
I entered out of curiosity and was informed by the front desk girl that for every loving animal owner, there is an idiot who buys a dog and soon realizes that he can’t take care of it because he’d rather pay 600 dollars a year on new headshots instead of vet bills. (An extreme example but you get the point.)
She gave me a tour of the backroom where I saw numerous dogs housed in cages, the smaller ones doubled up to save space. It reminded me of NYU dormitory housing, only better. The shelter provides the best possible care and ensures the survival of animals without a home, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for them.
“How can I help?” I asked.
Within a span of a few weeks, I was a trained dog walker! At any point, I could go unsupervised to the shelter’s backroom, check the board to see which dog needed to go outside, and take him for a stroll. On my first day, I excitedly ventured into the back room and found a black and white Shih Tzu sitting by herself in a cage. Her name was Lola.
Lola and I became good friends. On weekends, I walked an assortment of dogs, but during the week I only walked Lola. I liked her because she was previously owned by a family and was well trained. She never wrestled with her leash, and would instinctively stop and go when asked. She was the first girl I met in L.A. who didn't want to settle down after six months.
At the shelter, she had a private cage because she didn’t like “socializing” (as I was told) with the other animals. Similarly, I’ve always preferred to do my own thing, and be by myself. We were an ideal match.
As the months progressed, I noticed that I got better at my job. I was more efficient and trivial things no longer bothered me. I didn’t mind getting chastised because I couldn’t get an outdoor reservation at Polo Lounge and instead looked forward to taking Lola to her favorite sunbathing spot.
It finally made sense to me why people in L.A. love their dogs. In a town where you are recycled both professionally and personally, dogs fill an emotional void, but also provide rare, absolute love. Eventually, I hit my year mark and put in my notice soon after. I entered the Amanda Foundation and went straight for Lola’s cage – empty.
“She was adopted on the weekend. I thought somebody told you!” the front desk girl chirped.
“Terrific!” I grimly smiled. I was happy that Lola got adopted. I could never do it because I worked too many hours, but secretly dreamed to take her home.
I still visit the shelter, but I now make it a point to walk different dogs so I don't get attached to one particular animal: Luke, Chester, Maggie. Like a man who frequents nightly escorts, sometimes I don’t even know the name of the dog I’m with, but it's better that way.
I believe that people are seasonal, and they come and go in my life for certain reasons. I just never expected it to be a dog.
I believe that people are seasonal, and they come and go in my life for certain reasons. I just never expected it to be a dog.
If you’d like to make a donation to the Amanda Foundation here is their website.
Also, if you’re interested, here is a picture of Lola I pulled off their website. She looks like somebody stuffed her and mounted her on the dining table but it'll have to do.