You might remember him as the taxi driver who takes some terrible relationship advice from Deadpool while accepting payments in high-fives. It’s easy to say that Dopinder has become as popular as Deadpool himself.
We don’t get to see much of him, but in those few minutes, Indian-American actor Karan Soni remains solid, with impeccable comic timing. And for Soni, this is just the start.
“The response is overwhelming and it feels awesome. I know only about the response in America, but my dad saw it in Delhi and showed me a photo of the packed theatre. I have been in a lot of projects in America but not all of them make it to India,” he says.
When Karan auditioned for the role, he had no clue that he was auditioning for Deadpool. “I auditioned for the movie in December 2014. It wasn’t called Deadpool, it had some secret name. Deadpool’s character was named George, so I didn’t know what the project was about. Three months later, after I had forgotten about it, I got a call confirming my role,” he says.
Karan shares most of the screen time with Ryan Reynolds. Talking about working with the actor, Karan says, “This was the best project to work with Ryan because he has been trying to make the movie for seven years. He was so excited and passionate about it. There was a little bit of improvisation between the two of us. In the scene towards the end, when you find out that I have Bandhu in the trunk, the conversation that followed is an improvised one, which was not there in the script.”
The movie starts with a Bollywood song Mera Joota Hai Japani after the opening credits and another song Tumse Accha Kaun Hai also plays in between. Whose idea was it to Indianise the movie a bit?
“I think that the name Dopinder is someone that Ryan grew up with in Canada. And maybe the writers got the idea to make the taxi driver Indian because they wanted Deadpool to interact with someone so different from who he is and how their friendship could show a different side of the character. In the movie, my character is innocent and misunderstands everything he says; that’s really funny to watch. The movie has so much action and violence that it’s good to see Deadpool not shooting people once in a while and trying to help someone. Though he gives really bad advice, at least he is trying to help.”
Though Dopinder was widely appreciated, many also felt that he is being typecast as a stereotypical Indian. “I have worked a lot in America and have played all kinds of characters. In my TV show Blunt Talk with Patrick Stewart, I play a news producer and there is nothing Indian about the character. This summer, I’ll be in the Ghostbusters movie where I play an American character. I did not feel like I was being stereotyped in Deadpool. In fact, I have never been cast as someone who speaks in Indian accent, so for me, playing Dopinder was different and I was really excited... and it was fun. But moving forward, if I get offered a role where I play another cab driver, I am not going to take that. That would be stereotyping,” he says.
Karan also adds that Indian actors do have a market in America and with more Indians being cast in TV series, the opportunities are just getting bigger. “You get to see an Indian character in almost every TV show. Now, Priyanka’s Quantico is doing really well and even Aziz Ansari was appreciated for his show (Master Of None), so you see a lot of Indians on TV,” he says.
Karan recalls his journey from Delhi to ending up in Los Angeles. “I studied in an International school in Delhi. The school encouraged us to do something other than studying your own subjects so I did a lot of plays but I never took it seriously as a career. I came to LA to study in the University of South California and started taking business classes. My professors would keep saying that I should audition for TV shows and movies so that just got planted in my head. I got really lucky and I found a small agent who had seen me in a play and then he started sending me for auditions.”
But there was years of struggle behind the success, adds Karan. “When I met my agent, I was 19 and I got my first role I was 21, landing one tiny role on TV. A few months after that I landed a role in the movie Safety Not Guaranteed with Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson, which did really well at Sundance Film Festival. Until then, I was working part time in a restaurant. When I was 23, I quit my job. I had a plan that by the time I was 30, if I still have a part-time job and I don’t have enough money and I am just doing this then I will quit. Luckily at 23, I think I am working enough and don’t have to do a part time job.”
Karan also reveals that he is currently penning down a script and he would like to cast Bollywood actors in the movie. “Ninety per cent of the story is set in India. If it gets made, there are characters for which I would want to cast Bollywood actors. I think that this project is something that people will be interested in producing because I feel like Americans would love to see Bollywood actors.”
Karan is currently shooting for the second season of Blunt Talk which comes out in September. “Hopefully I will start shooting for Deadpool 2 later this year if my character is back,” he signs off.