Wed
Dec 7 2011 10:00am

An Open Letter to J.J. Abrams: If There’s a Khan, He Should Be Indian

True there are only rumors about the second rebooted Star Trek film right now, and there’s been no confirmation that Khan will be its villain, but if he is, I have something to say to J. J. Abrams, assuming he’s going ahead with Khan:

Make him a real Indian.

As many of you will already know, the internet has been awash with news of Benicio Del Toro being considered for a role in the second J. J. Abrams reboot Star Trek film. Recently, it came to light that Del Toro won’t be in the film, but some outlets are reporting that the villain of the film will, in fact, be Khan Noonien Singh, last seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Now I am a fan of Benicio Del Toro’s. And had he been cast as Khan I would have been willing to go with it, since I would love to see where he would take the character. However, now that he’s refused, should Khan be in the film, my plea to Mr. Abrams would be that he consider an actual Indian actor. 

The character of Khan Noonien Singh, introduced in the Original Series episode, “Space Seed,” genetically engineered to be superhuman in both body and mind, was an Indian, in fact a Sikh. So why not cast an Indian (or South Asian) actor in the role? 

Don’t get me wrong — I loved Ricardo Montalban’s portrayal of the character. And in 1967 I would guess that there weren’t many Indian actors in Hollywood. However, now we have an opportunity to add authenticity to the role. Now we have Bollywood. I don’t claim to be a Bollywood aficionado, but I see the occasional film. And if you’re looking for a physically attractive, fit, charismatic man, Bollywood seems to be awash in them.

How about Salman Khan?

 

Or Sharukh Khan? Hell, they’re both named Khan already.

 

Or maybe Hrithik Roshan?

 

Abishek Bachchan? 

Accent shouldn’t be an issue because all of these guys speak English really well. They have the acting experience and the dancing involved in the average Bollywood film means they’re bound to be able to handle any physical work. Okay, I can’t vouch that any of these actors would be able to deliver a performance to rival Montalban’s, but surely someone of South Asian descent could. 

I admit it’s hard to get too worked up over this when the classic portrayal of the character was by a Latino man. But this is a chance to show that Indians can be more than just the brown doctors or convenience store owners or monkey brain eaters that we commonly see in television and films. This is a chance to show that Indians can be superhuman. And villainous. But in the best possible way. 

What do you say, J. J.? Are you willing to go where no man has gone before?


Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, and blogger of Indian descent. He would play the character of Khan in a second, though he’d need to hit the gym for a while first. His website is www.rajankhanna.com

41 comments
talopine
1. talopine
I thought the first reboot movie was dreadful, but I would totally go see the second one if Shahrukh Khan was in it! :)
James Whitehead
2. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I have no problem with Khan being Indian. I find lots of Bollywood films to be a blast; although I am disappointed that they've backballed Gonzo and not given him his due. ;-)

I have a problem with them bringing him back at all. So much for creativity. I would like new ground covered not just the same rehash of what has come before. I enjoyed the 'reboot' movie & felt the cast worked well together.

Get them out there exploring, investigating, encountering new life forms; you know, 'boldly going' and stuff.

Let's not, however, bring back old villians or the Borg or whatever.

Originality & clever writing was once one of the hallmark's of this series.

Would be nice to see them recapture that.

Kato
talopine
3. Edgewalker
Dear JJ Abrams:

Cast the best actor for the role and don't listen to people on the Internet.
Mouldy Squid
4. Mouldy_Squid
@Kato #2;

Originality? In today's Hollywood? From a director who proudly trumpets he has never watched Star Trek?

You might as well ask for the moon.

Abrams really isn't all that good. The latest Star Trek movie was horrendous and geared to appeal to only the lowest common denominator. The only things it had in common with Star Trek were the names of the characters and the name of the ship. There was nothing new, original or even interesting about that film; simply two hours of lense flares, inane pointless plot and Abrams' self-congratulation.

The very fact that there are rumors of Khan being the villian for the second film depresses me. They managed to piss away a great opportunity for revitalising Star Trek by releasing a, at most, mediocre SF action flick. If the rumors are true then the second film will be an even greater waste of money and time than the first.

Star Trek is dead. Abrams killed it. All it took was one hipster director, which surprises me considering the longevity of the franchise.
talopine
5. Passpertou
I'll stick my neck out and predict that Khan will be played by a British actor. There are plenty of good British actors of Indian origin, but it'll be a white British actor. One day Hollywood will start casting actors other than Brits in villain roles, but that day is far away.
talopine
6. _mike_
I don't understand the logic. Everybody agrees that Montalban's Khan was archetypal, but we should prevent anything like that from happening again by only considering Indian actors. Because the charater has an Indian name?
Ashley McGee
7. AshleyMcGee
@ Mouldy-Squid

I agree with you, but only to a point. J.J Abrams isn't very good. It was kind of like watching a Star Trek fanfiction with better graphics. I thought the diologue and character development needed some help. However, overall, I liked the new reboot. There are things I would have changed--like the time travel. They got a crappy Kirk.

I think I like the idea of a second shot, though I don't hold out much hope for a good villain or new material. But I don't think Abrams killed Star Trek. Its a bit of a stretch to say that Star Trek is dead. That's about as disappointing as saying the Joker is dead because Heath Ledger is dead, and it makes about as much sense as that does. Everyone said Nemisis killed Star Trek. Apparently it didn't.

What I took a little personal offense to was that you said the reboot film appealed to, "the lowest common denomenator". Keep in mind that genre film attracts the highest numbers at the box office, and if J.J. wanted to make a little money off of this venture, whose to say that's wrong? There is nothing wrong with profit, and film makers appeal to our baser instincts all the time. Half the time, I don't like flashy special effects, but if they are done well, I can be convinced of its coolness. What put me off about the film was the bad acting and the crummy villain. If you have a problem with a film maker being successful, maybe you should go Occupy something because you're missing the bigger picture: people like action films. I agree that some of the best Star Trek episodes didn't even have a corporeal villain, or crisis, and these episodes showcased the characters true mission and purpose. And suppose Abrams gave you what you wanted, it would just be a glorified Star Trek episode, and nobody would have gone to see it. They did that to the X:Files, and it disappointed me to no end.

Also, try to stay on topic and not troll the forums bashing films that aren't even out yet. We were talking about Khan. I would be happy to see an Indian actor make a debut, reprising Khan the way he was meant to be played--with all the sexy flare of a genetically enhanced human being without equal. If Abrams wants to appeal to my baser instincts with a sexy new Khan, he can just go right ahead. I want to see those pecks, and I want to hear him quote Shakespeare, and Moby Dick. Because that's sexy, and I don't know of a single nerdy girl alive that won't go see it.

Bring it on, Abrams. Anyone with a half decent understanding of economics knows this film has Cow-Eyed-Money-Spender written all over it.
talopine
8. tree_and_leaf
@ Mike

Khan doesn't just 'have an Indian name' , he canonically is Indian, and it seems reasonable to have an Indian character played by an actor who looks and sounds that way. Even as a kid, I found it jarring that Montalban didn't look or sound remotely as if he came from what was supposed to be his place of origin.* Yes, Montalban gave an iconic performance, but since the role would have to be recast anyway, why not use an Indian actor? There are plenty of fine Indian actors out there (and in any case, I think it would be helpful to cast someone who didn't just look like a pale imitation of Montalban. It's such a big role to fill that going for someone just because they remind you of Montalban's probably not going to do the actor, or the character, any favours).

* A bit like the unbelievability of James Doohan being a Scot, much as I love him. But loving Doohan's performance doesn't stop me being really glad Abrams found someone who could actually do a decent accent....
talopine
9. tree_and_leaf
My footnote was clumsily phrased: a bad accent isn't the same as erasing a character's ethnicity. But the jarring effect made me question my suspension of disbelief in a similar manner.
Gerd K
10. Kah-thurak
So Picard should have been played by a frenchman? Why would anyone care? And why should accents in a far future sound anywhere close to how they sound now? And shouldnt in the utopia of the Star Trek earth all races and nations have mixed to a degree where it is impossible to tell one from another anyways? Shouldnt everyone be 3/4 chinese then? Is this really relevant?
Mouldy Squid
11. Mouldy_Squid
"Also, try to stay on topic and not troll the forums bashing films that aren't even out yet. We were talking about Khan. I would be happy to see an Indian actor make a debut, reprising Khan the way he was meant to be played--with all the sexy flare of a genetically enhanced human being without equal. If Abrams wants to appeal to my baser instincts with a sexy new Khan, he can just go right ahead. I want to see those pecks, and I want to hear him quote Shakespeare, and Moby Dick. Because that's sexy, and I don't know of a single nerdy girl alive that won't go see it."

I wasn't aware that the rumour was confirmed fact. You should probably try not to get all gooshy about a undecided actor for a rumoured role in a film that isn't even out yet. The whole discussion of whether an Indian should be cast in a role for a retread is pointless unless that role has in fact been confirmed. As far as I know, it hasn't. Speculate all you want but don't whine when someone comes along and points out the inanity of it.

I couldn't care less what actor they cast in a role that may or may not even be a part of a film that hasn't been released yet. It doesn't matter anyway since Hollywood isn't going to cast anyone who is actually foreign. Look at what they are doing to Akira.


If all you want is some eye-candy quoting dead playwrites badly, might I suggest, oh, I don't know, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? It's already been made. And it doesn't have lense flares in every shot.

Appealing to the lowest common denominator is exactly what is wrong with Hollywood. Science Fiction already has a struggle to be seen as ligitimate cinema and literature; Abrams isn't helping.


He couldn't give me a Star Trek movie I would want because I haven't wanted a Star Trek movie since Generations. I am not opposed to a good Star Trek film, but that would require original writing, actual direction and actors that can act. Abrams has shown he cannot give us that. All he has given us is schlock and an Indian actor as Khan isn't going to magically make the next Trek film better. Provided that Khan is the villain; provided that there is a villain at all.
talopine
12. a1ay
Even as a kid, I found it jarring that Montalban didn't look or sound
remotely as if he came from what was supposed to be his place of
origin.

Head over to the subcontinent one of these days and you'll find a lot of people (especially up in NW Pakistan and Afghanistan) who are even less "Indian looking" than Ricardo Montalban. Hell, some of them are blond. Some of them are red-haired. Some of them look 100% Chinese.

Also, complaining that a guy called "Singh" has to look like Apu is a bit out of date even today. Google "Stephanie Jacobsen" for someone who was completely miscast by reality. I mean, Jacobsen's a Scandinavian name!
Kiwi Carlisle
14. mantelli
Thanks for the pictures! They made my morning!
Paul Lewandowski
15. Snowkestrel
@Kah-thurak

According to Star Trek lore, the Eugenics Wars (of which Khan was a product/part) were fought in the 1990's. Khan's sleeper ship, the botany Bay, was supposedly launched in 1996. Even if you were to bring that forward into the early 21st century, you would still have distinct nationalities/ethnicities, and usually accents to match.

Now, if you wanted to argue that having been a genetically engineered superman, Khan wasn't designed to look ethincally Indian, or that he was raised in a controlled environment that did not result in his gaining an Indian accent, I might be able to go along with that, though I have not read the books by Greg Cox that describe Khan's early life, nor do I believe that the books are cosidered canon, anyway.
talopine
16. cWj
try being a Sikh actors in Hollywood and you'll understand why it's important.

P.S.: If Montalban created the archetype, we should have a Latino Khan?
Pritpaul Bains
18. Kickpuncher
I personally can't help but consider Bollywood (and most things related to it) some kind of practical joke on humanity, but I'd be more than happy to see someone like Rao or Andrews in the role. I might even be okay with Kapoor. Ramamurthy should stay far, far away. Stupid Heroes.

And yeah, for a character canonically Indian, Indian actors *should* be considered first. If they flop, fine, move on.
Rajan Khanna
19. rajanyk
@18 Naveen Andrews even worked for Abrams before. I can totally see that happening.
talopine
20. Doesn't Get It Guy
So when Terrell and Chekhov beam down to Ceti Alpha V, instead of finding them living in the Botany Bay, Khan and his followers will be in a big tee-pee and attack with tomahawks, right? Well you said...Indian...uh...oh.
Theresa DeLucci
21. theresa_delucci
The pictures in this post made me blush!

I think Andrews or Kapoor would be interesting choices. Rao is great as a comedic actor but too baby-faced for Khan. Totally agreed that the author who suggested Ramamurthy never post again. Good god, Mohinder sucked.

ETA: Someone in the comments at blastr suggested Nestor Carbonell of Lost. Yes! Love that idea.
j p
22. sps49
I haven't seen any of the above act, and my exposure to Bollywood is very limited. If any of them has presence like Montalban did, fine, but pecs do not a Khan make.

I don't understand why del Toro would be considered. The reboot would likely involve the first contact with the Botany Bay and it's younger cargo, not the older Khan who hasn't been marooned yet.

This will probably be overshadowed by whatever Abrams comes up with, anyway. He did well with Alias, but a lot of his oeuvre is polished turds. And his Trek movie is crap as a movie, not just a Star Trek movie (now with Lens Flare!).
talopine
23. a1ay
he was raised in a controlled environment that did not result in his gaining an Indian accent

Like, say, "another country".
Irfon-Kim Ahmad
24. Maize
I think another aspect of this problem that's getting overlooked is whether Chris Pine, at this point in his career, is capable of delivering a compelling, "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!"

(I mean, really, how many other similarly-iconic single-word performances are there? "Rosebud," is the only other one I can think of. Even, "I know," is two words.")
talopine
25. Persephone
You can bet your sweet bippy, if Sharukh Khan were to play the part, he would *deliver*. He is and exceptional actor. I just saw RaOne, and he was a totally different character than I've ever seen him do.

Just another vote for Sharukh Khan. :-)
talopine
26. Lorien Shaw
I am willing to see ANYthing with Shahrukh Khan, period. I can only think of a scant few European/American/Australian actors who can claim that kind of loyalty. And with Shahrukh Khan in a Star Trek film, one can but imAgine the box office revenue just from the Asian markets!
talopine
27. jandbindia.com
Casting any of the 4 Indian actors Rajan Khanna suggests would immediately raise the profile of the film, around the world! It would be so incredibly cool, I can't even imagine. CAN YOU SAY BLOCKBUSTER?!? :)

Also, I agree with his reasons for casting an actor of South Asian origin. There is so much talent available in the world, why not use it, and be accurate in our character portrayals?
talopine
28. surak
JJ Trek today:

"Have you ever read Milton, Captain?"

"Only Milton Freidman". "It's better to cash in on Earth, than rule in Heaven."

Star Trek: The Lost Generation
Danny Bowes
29. DannyBowes
Shahrukh wants to crack Hollywood so bad he'd probably do the part for scale. (And he'd be good.)
talopine
30. w00master
(Note: I'm a huge fan of TOS and especially Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

Almost seems like I'm the only one that loved JJ Abrams' Star Trek. To each their own, for me it was the much needed "kick in the butt" that the series has needed for a very long time - stuck in continuity - stuck in the overeager fandom, I personally found Abrams' Star Trek to be refreshing.

Oh, and the controversial move to destroy Vulcan? I personally thought it was brilliant.

My only gripe was that the "holy trinity" (Kirk, Spock, Bones) didn't seem to be there - maybe the next film will have this? Please?

Anyway, I'm sure I'll get pummeled now because I loved Abrams' version, so I'll just hide in the corner.
talopine
31. Zdubsquare
(I hope this wasn't posted already, I did a lazy ctr-f to check)

It would not make a lot of sense in terms of physique, but if they cast Kal Penn, it would be Harold and Kumar in space. I think that everybody wants that, at least a little bit.
talopine
32. markerikson
You're all crazy. The last Star Trek film was the best one they ever did. All it was missing was Shatner (hopefully they'll find a way to put him in the new one).
talopine
33. ShellyR
I would just like to state for the record that after years of being faced with an excess of scantily clad sff women, I appreciate Tor doing its part to even out the scales. I think this is a practice that should be continued on a weekly basis, preferably on Monday mornings when my metabolism generally needs a jump start.

(PS- I liked the new Star Trek, and I've been a fan since the 60s. It was a much-needed kick in the pants to the franchise.)
talopine
34. mad_for_fantasy
I think that Shahrukh can pull off Khan, if he delivers a performance like Chak de India and Swades.(If selected)
m e a n n
35. almeldiel
If I had to pick one from the actors listed above, I'd say Shah Rukh Khan as well. When I saw this article's title on the front page, I immediately thought of him even before reading the list of suggested actors. I've seen some of his work, and it seems he can bring something different to the Khan role--probably something that will complement the current cast. Montalban was a perfect foil for Shatner back in WoK, but casting another actor who will just channel Montalban won't likely be as effective a foil for Chris Pine's Kirk.

Oh, and ditto on the novelty of him being named Khan. ;p

Shah Rukh is already a superstar in India, so yeah, his involvement would also have that added bonus of boosting box office receipts for Trek in Asia. ;)
talopine
36. tonys
I disagree with your assumption that Khan was a Sikh. The last name Singh was a popular one in olden times and many non-Sikhs have that last name from birth.
talopine
37. goatunit
While Khan's name indicates that he is of Sikh Indian descent, his ethnicity is that of a genetically modified super man. I think he should ideally be ethnically ambiguous, or at least multi-racial. That point aside, Indian actors have too few opportunities and too much talent to be taken out of the running.

(Love the screen capture from Dhoom 2, by the way.)
talopine
38. Yet Another Geek
It may well have been nonsense to have a character with a Muslum forename and a Sikh surname being played by a latino.

Nevertheless, it is a great shame that 20C TV could push the boat out further that 21C hollywood.
talopine
39. redeem147
I do watch Indian films, I can vouch for all these multiple award winning actors, and any of them would have been excellent. Abrams missed a great opportunity.
talopine
40. Go Joe Blow
Fuck it! Let's just make him white and add some cool explosions!
talopine
41. Mayan
This character was intended by the original creator of Star Trek to be a Sikh. Gene Rodenberry named and modelled the character after a Sikh airforce pilot he worked with in WWII. The real man's name was actually Noonien Singh, and it was his hope that by naming the character for his friend, they would reconnect. It would have been a travesty for any of the men listed above to play this character; it should have been a North Indian, Punjabi Sikh. And there are plenty of Punjabi actors who would fit the part. I find it ridiculous when people are outraged about a character's identity not being respected and then offer up a list of candidates who also don't reflect the identity. If a White Christian is unsuitable, then how is a S. Indian Hindu or Muslim a better fit? The various and diverse ethnicities of India are not interchangeable, and this post seems to suggest that they are. For those who would suggest that an Indian of any background would still be better than a white man should look at Bollywood's track record of potraying Sikhs; they have done an absolute terrible job of accurately or respectfully portraying Sikhs. The recent "Son of Sardar" is a perfect example of the clusterf*ck of insanity that is Hindus pretending to be Sikhs.

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