The Indian Detective is Everything That’s Wrong with Russell Peters

Pop Culture

The Indian Detective is Everything That’s Wrong with Russell Peters

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Last week, Netflix took Russell Peters’ now famously abused catchphrase “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad” quite literally by streaming the Indo-Canadian comedian’s detective dramedy, The Indian Detective. In the process, they destroyed the mental peace of all its subscribers.

In the four-episode series, Peters plays Doug D’mello, a bumbling Indo-Canadian police officer in Toronto whose ultimate dream is to prove to the world that he is a great detective. However, his over-enthusiasm ensures that he becomes a laughing stock and a viral meme that results in his suspension and demotion. He then sets off on a journey to magically find his inner detective skills while visiting his father (Anupam Kher in his worst role and wig yet) in India. From then on, the show’s portrayal of India and its people amounts to all the tired cliches that Peters peddles in almost every comedy special. The show is basically a case study in laughable incompetency as it ends up being neither a believable detective show, nor an enjoyable cop comedy.

Take the first episode for instance, which might as well have been titled “Best Display of Poverty Porn”. The 40-minute introduction set in Mumbai is stapled together with stock shots of dirty beaches, slums, crime bosses, child beggars, street food, sadhus, cows, and even cow fresheners in cars, with a background score featuring tabla and sitar. This is what happens when your research material is restricted to one viewing of Slumdog Millionaire or Outsourced.

There’s more. People only wear kurtas, and speak only in perfectly polished English with a Canadian accent: right from the police officers (who terrorise criminals in shuddh English), to cabbies and vada-pav sellers. All of them look like Indian extras in a Hollywood show. On the off-chance that they speak in Hindi, the show guarantees that they brutalise the language. The entire show is a reinforcement of the oldest joke in Peters’ sleeve: “My people have funny accents.”

The Indian Detective’s all-round awfulness has at last made us acknowledge something we should have long back: Why did we ever think that Russell Peters was funny?

And that’s not even the worst part. The greatest travesty is the one that’s committed on Priya Sehgal (Misqah Parthiepal), the female lead of The Indian Detective. Despite living in Mumbai, Priya speaks neither perfect English nor unbroken Hindi, serving only as a caricature. Within no time, her character too is reduced to being a crutch for Peters to unleash his saviour act.

The star of the show doesn’t fare any better. For someone who claims to be a comedian, none of his jokes land. When he is not busy making jokes on fat or gay people (how is this funny in 2018?), he resorts to calling men, including his own father, “Ladiesss” as an insult.

But there’s one good thing that has emerged out of the awfulness that engulfs every frame of The Indian Detective, and the deserved drubbing that its stereotyping is receiving on social media. It has at last made a lot of people acknowledge something we should have long back: Why did we ever think that Russell Peters was funny?

Peters has made a career out of exploiting race jokes, and getting away with them only because he make it seem that the joke is on himself. By positioning himself as a product of the deluge of (borderline offensive) stereotypes that he continued to sell, he has been successful in fooling the world that his jokes are a critique of racism. Granted, he might have been edgy at one point, but his recent acts, especially his Green Card Tour, where he picks on audience members, inquires about their ethnicity and proceeds to make jokes on them skew toward insult rather than comedy. Even as a new breed of comedians like Maz Jobrani, Trevor Noah, and Hasan Minhaj go beyond race, Peters is still developing entire sets around mocking accents in 2018.

The Indian Detective’s all-round offensive existence will likely erode whatever nostalgia Peters enjoyed. Because the only way he thinks he can achieve any currency is by shitting on his culture.