Kunal Nayyar reveals the original plans for The Big Bang Theory's Rajesh Koothrappali and how his audition for the role changed the character.
Kunal Nayyar reveals The Big Bang Theory's original plan for Raj before he was cast. It's been more than a year since CBS' long-running sitcom wrapped up after 12 seasons. Since then, its primary cast members have moved on to other projects, but their stint in the show continues to be brought up. This results in additional details regarding the project that people might not know — that includes the latest bit of information about the Pasadena gang's Indian member.
It's no secret that The Big Bang Theory had a scrapped pilot which only featured Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) from the original cast. CBS decided to rework the episode, leading to the addition of Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Rajesh. It wasn't until season 4 that Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) became regular characters in the series. It turns, out, however, that had Nayyar not auditioned for the role of Raj, the character would've been very different from the one that appeared in the show's more than a decade run on TV.
Speaking with Metro UK, Nayyar recalls his experience trying for The Big Bang Theory and how his casting drastically changed Raj. According to him, the character was supposed to be a first-generation American named Dave and not an immigrant, but the producers decided to change it once he tested. The actor also expressed his gratitude towards the show's boss for allowing him to bring his identity to his role, adding that while Raj does play to stereotypes. he doesn't have a problem with it as it depicts him as highly-intellectual.
‘When they were rounding out the cast of Big Bang when I was auditioning, at that time the character was called Dave, and he was supposed to be a first generation American… but I came and I brought my big New Delhi self to it!
‘I was auditioning against Koreans, Japanese, Pakistanis, Chinese… they were really trying to fill out the diverse characters into this show. ‘It wasn’t particularly “oh here we want an Indian scientist”. I got very lucky and it happened to fall into my hands.’
‘They allowed me to really be an Indian, who has Indian qualities who doesn’t always run away from them, but also does run away from some of them. That’s just what all of us do. All of us have cultural appropriations that are attached to us, that sometimes we run away from, and then sometimes unbeknown to us, we fall into, and I think they found a really nice balance with Raj.’
‘So that’s why you see a lot of Indians in roles and in roles on television, but also in roles in life in those positions. ‘I’ve always said if a stereotype is to be smart, I’m happy to take it!’.
Admittedly, The Big Bang Theory gave Raj some great personal stories throughout its run. The show also made a conscious effort to introduce other members of his family including his parents, as well as, his sister, Priya (Aarti Mann) who even briefly dated Leonard. That said, the sitcom wasn't immune to making fun of his Indian origins. Both Sheldon and Howard had the tendencies to make fun of his accent and culture. This didn't sit well for some viewers despite the show always making sure to highlight that it was nothing but good-natured ribbing among the friends.
The biggest criticism about The Big Bang Theory's Raj, however, was the show's lack of effort to move the character forward. Compared to other main players in the series, there wasn't as much focus on his narrative, especially in the final season. This was why fans were divided on his final fate. Nayyar already defended the decision to leave Raj single at the end of the sitcom, but as the most romantic member of the Pasadena gang, viewers understandably wanted to see him with a new love interest.