By Mohammed Khalid
Did you include “going to the gym” as part of your New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, did you fail to follow through? No problem. Just add watching the new Austin-based comedy web series Gym Buddies to your to-do list.
Award-winning screenwriter Shruti Saran created the original web series starring stand-up comedian Nikita Redkar (as “Aparna”) and singer Chelsea Lane (as “Quinn”) among others. The five-episode first season launches when Aparna is dumped by her boyfriend and, in an attempt to recover from the heartbreak, resolves to join a gym and gets her best friend Quinn to be her gym buddy.
In an interview with AsAmNews, Saran said that she wanted to create a web series after she saw much material for comedy in gym culture.
“There is also a big fitness community online, so hopefully Gym Buddies will find its audience.” She also really hopes that Indian Americans watch the series and enjoy it.
“Every community deals with break-ups,” she adds. “Everyone ends up with exes, no matter where they are from. That’s pretty universal.”
Can problems like break-ups be solved on their own or does everyone need a friend? Redkar told AsAmNews that it’s nice to have friends who support you during hard times. “Quinn’s character as a ‘straight person’ which is a concept in comedy in which one person in comedy duo is often more logical than the other, and serves as a stand-in for the audience. The show itself is not a combination of the straight and the absurd. Aparna’s goals may be outlandish, but Quinn’s are pretty straightforward.”
The first episode follows social-media-savvy Aparna tricking Quinn coming to a gym where they are welcomed by Rob. Rob, played by children-book writer Jason Gallaher, is a newly-minted gym manager desperate to prove himself.
Aparna is a character with an Indian name. Yet, Indians are not usually featured on comedy web series.
“But she leads a lifestyle like everyone else,” says Redkar who plays the character. “Aparna is not a ‘token’ and is already part of the world. She is a wholesome, 3-dimensional person. Once you have people on screen who look like you, it naturally boosts your self-confidence.”
A recent report released by the UCLA notes that the film industry lags television in more diverse representation. “Audiences are left wanting more representation on screen that reflects the world they see in their daily lives,” noted Ana-Christina Ramó, one of the authors of UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report.
If the report findings are true, Gym Buddies is already ahead of the curve.
“There are two ways to champion diversity in Hollywood,” says Saran. “You can tell diverse stories, but you can also just normalize South Asian characters by putting them on the screen, even if the story isn’t explicitly about the South Asian American experience.
Saran thinks that championing diversity begins with the script. After listening to the podcast Scriptnotes one day, Saran realized that unless someone’s background in the script is specified, most casting directors will just cast someone Caucasian.
Since then, she has always aimed to name and describe people in her scripts such that “if the screenplay were to get produced, the casting director would feel compelled to cast actors of various backgrounds. And that’s whether I’m telling stories that are specifically Indian or not.
“I really wanted to cast an Indian actor because I’m Indian and I want to champion Indian people in general, especially women.
Still, the series does not feed any hidden diversity message.
“Gym Buddies isn’t explicitly about the Indian American experience, but I still think it’s important to pay attention to diversity in casting regardless.”
The series “attempts to satirize Gym culture because it’s funny and a bit ridiculous the things we do to intentionally tire ourselves out in the name of health.”
Redkar points out that like Aparna’s character, no real-life person is perfect. But is Aparna narcissistic? “Aparna is a good person and I wouldn’t necessarily call her narcissistic.”
But maybe, that’s why we need Quinn to complement Aparna. “Everyone needs someone sometimes. I am lucky to have people who are there to support me and be there for me in difficult times. In this series, Quinn is definitely very supportive,” Redkar says.
“Quinn serves as the straight person to Aparna and is an empathetic sounding board,” adds Saran.
Asked if she sees any connection with the “hard-working” immigrant experience or expectations, Redkar says that Aparna is kind of a normalizing, non-traditional model to follow.
“For us younger and first- or second-generation kids, the message is that they don’t have to be perfect. Aparna’s character is a breath of fresh air; it allows us to see our flaws and learn from our insecurities. I want young people to take that non-traditional path and be inspired. You don’t need something grand as a ‘larger purpose.’ Just have something that excites you.”
Saran sees Gym Buddies as a proof-of-concept for a television pilot and says that there is a serial narrative that runs throughout the episodes, which are also standalone. The series also takes viewers into the territory of women’s rights and feminism and portrays Aparna as a “misinformed feminist.”
“We’re passing through a really interesting cultural moment right now for women’s rights and feminism, and as a female writer I obviously have a lot of thoughts on the subject. I chose not to create something super on the nose, but it was important to me that Gym Buddies be female-focused.
“While there isn’t a strong feminist message, there are definitely moments in Gym Buddies where feminism comes up, like when Aparna is trying to sell joining a gym to Quinn as some kind of feminist endeavor.”
Gym Buddies premiers a new episode every Wednesday and can be watched at the Gym Buddies website.
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