Waris Ahluwalia has had roles in big Hollywood movies including The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, appeared in major ad campaigns, and is even a successful jewelry designer, but he still doesn’t have an agent. “Hollywood looks at me and gets confused — I'm not white or black or the other acceptable shades in between,” he says. "So I cut out the middle man and work with the directors myself. Sometimes it takes the world a little time to catch up. I'm patient." He's collaborated with Spike Lee, Deepa Mehta, and Wes Anderson and just finished Indian Gigolo, his first piece with Peter Glanz, which we are premiering exclusively on the Cut.
The three-minute short is a nearly shot-by-shot remake of the opening sequence of American Gigolo, with Ahluwalia replacing Richard Gere in the title role. "Primarily, it's a piece of art," says Ahluwalia. "Just friends making something fun. The social commentary is an inevitable side effect of my caramel skin, dark, mysterious looks, and regal turban." The film also stars musician Z Berg.
As a member of the fashion community, of course Ahluwalia took the film's costume requirements very seriously: "A key character was the style — mainly the suits," he says. "We called our friend, and my tailor, Jake Mueser. He ended up not only making the suits, but he also produced the project."
The idea of the remake is to make people think a bit about identity, says Ahluwalia. "[We are] repurposing the intro sequence of a classic American film with a new idea of what it means to be American. Questioning cultural identity. It creates a moment and an opportunity for a dialogue, a chance to learn and expand." Seeing a Sikh man as an object of desire in the film is a slight but deliberate provocation, a little poke at our cultural complacency.
Ahluwalia has had previous experience with American attitudes toward his racial identity — when he starred in a Gap campaign in late 2013, some posters were defaced with slurs. But in the end he saw the outcome as positive. "The outpouring of support from the Indian community at large and the Gap was unexpected and quite beautiful," he recalls. "To my surprise I received countless letters from young Indian kids saying they finally felt cool walking into school. This was one the first times they'd seen the Indian male identity celebrated in this way and at such a large scale."
Perhaps Indian Gigolo will have a similar cultural impact. Just a little is enough for Ahluwalia: "That's all we can hope for. A slight shift in consciousness." The group hopes to produce more videos and create a series — stay tuned.