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!