“Aliens in America” Television with a Pakistani Twist

By Ras H. Siddiqui

Adhir Kalyan as a Pakistani kid in an American classroom
Raja Musharraf is welcomed at the airport
Dan Byrd and Adhir Kalyan

Monday, October 1, 2007 is going to become a watershed day for Pakistanis and Muslims worldwide, especially for those here in America. The CW television network (CBS Warner) is launching its prime-time television series “Aliens in America ” on that date (please check local listings for exact timing).
Aliens in America is about one all American family, the Tolchuk’s who are unexpectedly joined by a Pakistani-Muslim exchange student. The student Raja Musharraf (played by Adhir Kalyan) makes quite a ripple at the local high school as well as within the Tolchuck home in Medora, Wisconsin.
The family had originally anticipated and expected a young Nordic teen to come and live in their home to befriend their geeky son Justin (Dan Byrd of The Hills Have Eyes) who easily fills the role of the other alien (home grown but maladjusted teen with no social life). Together the two, Raja and Justin make quite a pair.
That there will be questions and raised eyebrows about this show is almost guaranteed. The first one that comes to mind is whether America is ready for a practicing Muslim kid from Pakistan as a main character on prime time? And on the other hand, are the Pakistani and Muslim community here in America ready for raunchy teenage humor associated with their youth? One will just have to wait to find out, but this sure seems newsworthy at the moment.
At least one “Aliens in America” kickoff event that we know of is taking place at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington on October 1st, where the sponsors The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution will be joined for Iftar (the traditional Ramadan breaking of the fast) by the shows creators Moses Port and David Guarascio along with “Junooni” Salman Ahmad and Omar Amanat in a panel discussion on “Considering Post 9/11 Tensions Through Popular Culture.” And maybe we can add to that topic “Can popular comedy resolve over six years of mistrust?” One answer is that it sure can’t hurt!
Aliens in America also stars Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls) as Gary Tolchuck the aspiring entrepreneur, Amy Pietz (Caroline in the City) as is his wife Franny (whose idea it was to bring in an exchange student) and Lindsey Shaw as their beautiful and popular young daughter Claire (as opposed to son Justin who has many social issues).
As mentioned earlier, the role of Raja the Pakistani, is played by Adhir Kalyan a young South African of Indian descent who was born and raised in Durban. His mother Sandy Kalyan is a Member of Parliament in the South African National Assembly. Adhir moved to London in 2005 and has had an opportunity to act in a few BBC series and independent films. At the moment we are not aware of his religious beliefs and how he prepared for his role as a young Muslim from Pakistan in this series, but we are bound to find out soon.
Going back in history, the first young Muslim to enter the high citadel of American teen stardom through a television show was Sajid Khan almost 40 years ago. Teaming up with Jay North (Dennis the Menace) in the movie and TV series Maya, a story about a rare elephant (in which Khan played a Hindu kid), Sajid made quite an impression in the United States for a short period of time. Now it remains to be seen if Adhir Kalyan’s Raja can duplicate Sajid Khan’s contribution and make Muslims and South Asian “Desi” characters a more desirable youth element here after the challenges posed by 9/11/2001.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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