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My sense of cultural identity is out of whack, says Nik Dodani

Actor-comedian-screenwriter Nik Dodani is more than a triple threat   | Photo Credit: Luke Fontana

A few ‘latergram’ posts on Nik Dodani’s Instagram places him at Cape Town Film Studios in South Africa where he filmed Escape Room — now in theatres across India. The posts brim with dry and witty humour coupled with sass much like his character on TV show Murphy Brown in which he plays the charismatic and openly gay Pat Patel. Nik is stealing hearts and gazes with his impressive talent.

The 25-year-old grew up in Arizona in the United States and adds it was “a part of Arizona with a bunch of rich white kids, some of whom confused me for their local Navajo tribesman.” He tacks on, “Safe to say, my sense of cultural identity is completely out of whack.”

Netflix snagged the actor’s talents too, shoving him into the spotlight with roles as Zahid in Atypical and as Blake in Alex Strangelove. “Working on Atypical has been a dream,” he comments, “The cast, producers, writers, directors, crew — everyone has been incredibly warm and welcoming. I feel like I’ve really cut my teeth working on Atypical. I’ve learned a lot and think I’ve grown as an actor because of the show.” Atypical, now running strong in its third season, follows the romantic and family-oriented milestones experienced by a high school student on the autism spectrum — with the continually pressing question of ‘what is normal?’

Nik Dodani in TV show ‘Murphy Brown’

Nik Dodani in TV show ‘Murphy Brown’  

Having starred as the geeky Danny Khan in Escape Room, Nik finally got his feet wet with the action-thriller genre. In the film we see walls being closed in, temperatures raised to flesh-scalding and other horrific predicaments. Naturally, he had to push himself physically. Director Adam Robitel, best known for The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) and Insidious: The Last Key (2018) was quite the pull-factor here. Nik completed the experience with a greater wealth of knowledge, explaining, “I learned that I have no excuse not to exercise when I’m shooting just because ‘I’m busy.’ Adam had a mini-gym wherever he went on set and was doing intense weight lifting between most takes. Very impressive.”

Nik Dodani in ‘Escape Room’

Nik Dodani in ‘Escape Room’  

Moving to on-set chronicles, one can only imagine the stress of working on such a serious film, but what enlivened the experience for Nik is the collaboration, much like with director Adam. “Working with the actors was the best part of the shoot. Everyone in that group is so fun and wacky and weird, and really talented. All of which was made more fun by the sets, which as you can see were wild. Being on those sets really made my job easier, because I could just lose myself in the environment.” In fact, one of Nik’s Instagram’s posts have him frosted with ice (as per hair and make-up) with the caption “I’m seeing a lot of sadness over Danny’s death in my DMs, but like, who said he’s dead?” You know, to keep things light-hearted.

Given the actor’s gift of the gab, Nik is a natural comedian, with a 2016 set ‘Man of Color’ narrating his coming-out to his parents going viral. He says in the set, “When I was 18, I went up to my father and said Dad I have something to tell you: I’m gay.’ And he says, ‘That’s great! But isn’t it pronounced ‘lawyer?’”

Last September, he had live audiences laughing during a stand-up on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. What did the experience teach him? Well, he’s quite succinct about it, “Stand-up is exhausting, I don’t get how the pro’s do it. I have mad respect for them.”

LGBTQI issues are close to Nik. Bringing up the striking down the Article 377 which decriminalised homosexual relations in India, I ask him what he hopes for across the Indian entertainment industry. He responds, “I hope all the closeted queers in the Indian entertainment industry start to come out. You know who you are.”

To the script

So what’s the versatile artiste up to now? He’s currently working on a screenplay for the movie adaptation of Lambda Literary award-winning Blue Boy written by Indian-American author Rakesh Satyal who’s also penned the successful No One Can Pronounce My Name.

My sense of cultural identity is out of whack, says Nik Dodani

It’s an exciting link-up for Nik, to say the least. Blue Boy follows 12 year-old Kiran Sharma who’s a bit of an outcast because he prefers to indulge ballet and playing with his mother’s makeup. He also reveres his Indian heritage and convinces himself that the reason he’s having trouble fitting in is because he’s actually the tenth reincarnation of Lord Krishna.

Nik recalls the link-up, “Last summer after I read Blue Boy for the first time, I DM’d Rakesh on Instagram like a silly fanboy. We eventually met up at a gay bar in New York and hit it off, and now we’re working together. I’m almost finished with the screenplay and can’t wait for the world to see the movie one day. Hope it doesn’t piss off too many religious folks in India...”

Nik is one of the golden few who’s paved the way for LGBTQI artistes of Indian-origin. What advice does he have for future entrants? “Take as many classes as you can, make real friends, don’t take yourself too seriously, and please don’t steal my jobs, thanks.”


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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 11:36:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/nik-dodani-interview-escape-room-murphy-brown/article26203336.ece

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