Fans of Danny Pudi, rejoice: you will finally get the chance to see him in a leading-man role in Lena Khan's new comedy/drama film The Tiger Hunter. Best known as his character Abed Nadir in NBC’s sitcom Community, Pudi has often been typecast in supporting roles as comic-relief characters. Although there are certainly elements of his trademark comedic style in this film, Pudi’s turn as Sami Malik opens an entirely new chapter for this rising star.
Set in the 1970s, Sami (Danny Pudi) immigrates to Chicago from India, pursuing a position at a top engineering firm to impress his childhood crush and fulfill the legacy of his legendary tiger-hunting father. When the job falls through, he resorts to an elaborate charade with his band of misfit friends (including Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder) to convince his would-be father-in-law he has made it big in America.
Few comedies manage to find a balance between cultural authenticity and mainstream relatability. In most cases, the stories they tell are too culturally specific to attract audiences beyond their specific niche. On the other hand, other films fall into the trap of reverting to lowest-common-denominator comedy that actively denigrates nonwhite characters (think Ken Jeong’s role in the Hangover series).
The Tiger Hunter strikes a perfect balance by taking on a very specific immigration experience, in part based on first-time director Khan’s own father’s story in coming to America. Simultaneously, Kahn makes it relatable to all audiences. What results is a funny yet poignant reflection on the experiences of many South Asian immigrants in the United States.
Fish out of water
Any person who has been a new kid at school or had another fish-out-of-water experience will see a piece of themselves in Pudi’s character. More specific to the immigration experience is the harsh reality Sami faces in limiting his expectations as a foreign resident. Then again, many native-born Americans are descended from immigrants, so there is some degree of universality there, too.
Before watching this film, I was concerned about the decision to set it in the 1970s on a relatively low budget. Thankfully, production designer Michael Fitzgerald’s attention to detail with interior decoration and wardrobe makes the film’s setting believable. I was particularly taken with Fitzgerald’s use of textiles and fabrics in the interior furnishings to convey the period aesthetic. He uses a palette of muted yellows and greens and fake-wood paneling reminiscent of the hipster-dad man caves of yesteryear.
Numerous supporting actors also contributed to the film’s success. Karen David (Galavant, Red Lights) stars opposite Pudi as his romantic interest Ruby, a likeable girl-next-door type. Rizwan Manji (Outsourced, Glee) is a glass-half-full sidekick to Pudi’s charade. Heder plays the boss’s son as an unlikely ally and friend.
Good comedy is successful when based in truth. In an era where foreign-born adoptees and childhood arrivals are being targeted for deportation, The Tiger Hunter is the comedy we all need to see.