Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

“In Treatment”: Creation of Sunil’s Story

Posted by litdaily on November 29, 2010

Irrfan Khan’s role as Sunil, a Bengali widower living in Brooklyn, on HBO’s In Treatment is picking up critical acclaim. The New York Times presents interviews with the playwright Adam Rapp, actor Irrfan Khan, and author Jhumpa Lahiri who consulted with the series for Sunil’s character, as overlapping excerpts to highlight their collaboration in creating Sunil’s story…more>>

The interviews point out that Jhumpa Lahiri’s role in this collaboration was that of a “cultural insider” or “native informant,” brought on board to take playwright Rapp and mainstream American TV production “through the scenario of a man coming over from Calcutta, what he would eat, what he would smoke, what kind of novels and poetry he would read.” It is indeed problematic that such cultural consultation assumes that there is a singularly identifiable way that an immigrant from Calcutta would eat or that “naturally” such an immigrant would read particular novels and poems. In making such an assumption, the media industry obviously forgets that the so-called “Third World” is very much a part of the world, and that a city like Calcutta has always had a vibrant culture as it has both influenced and been influenced by movies, literatures, and art forms from around the globe. Jhumpa Lahiri herself steers away from such easy cultural assumptions in the portrayal of Ashoke Ganguli in The Namesake (also played by Irrfan Khan in the Mira Nair movie adaptation).In the novel, Ganguli, raised in Calcutta, feels a strong connection to the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, not the first writer that comes to mind when thinking about the kind of literature an American immigrant from Calcutta would read.

In contrast to these simplistic assumptions, a more compelling analysis of the power of literary and media cultural texts to function cross-culturally comes from the interview with Irrfan Khan: “I’m from Bombay, I’m Indian, I have no cultural reference in this country. But I come here, I do a part, and everyone relates to it. That’s magical.”


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