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Pakistani American actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani nominated for Oscar

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Kumail Nanjiani  (Courtesy of grinnell.edu)
Kumail Nanjiani (Courtesy of grinnell.edu)

It’s the first time in Oscar history a person of Pakistani origin got a  nomination.

Pakistani American stand-up comedian turned actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani has received nomination for the 90th Academy Awards for his debut autobiographical movie “The Big Sick” in the “Original Screenplay” category. It’s the first time in Oscar history a person of Pakistani origin got a nomination.

The movie, based on the novel written by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2017.

Born in Karachi, the 39-year-old moved to the United States when he was 18 to attend Grinnell College in Iowa, from where he graduated in 2001.

“The Big Sick” has Nanjiani playing a tweaked version of himself. The character of Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, is a therapist-to-be. The movie progresses when the two characters get involved in a beautiful love relationship.

The movie was released at a time when Nanjiani got involved in a political controversy for his strong comments on Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, which put him on the spot light.

His confrontation with Trump supporters over harsh criticism of Trump’ abortive Muslim ban had made national headlines.

The nomination for “The Big Sick” is a big political statement not only because of Nanjiani’s prior skirmish with Trump supporters but also because the new administration has been in cold confrontation with Muslims since it came to power.

“The Big Sick” is produced by Judd Apatow, under Apatow Productions, and financed by FilmNation Entertainment. Its co-producer is Barry Mendel.

“When we started it, it was an important part of the movie, this experience of an immigrant in America,”  Apatow had said during the Sundance screening.

“What it’s turned into is an important representation that there are a billion people out there who are much closer to what we’re like than we are led to believe,” he added.

Earlier in 2014, the HBO Comedy series “Silicon Valley.” where Nanjiani plays the character of Dinesh, was nominated for the Golden Globe nominations for best comedy.

When Nanjiani came to the US in the mid-90s, he started watching comedians on television. He was inspired by the performances of David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld. A stand-up performance done by his classmate in college inspired Nanjiani to try his hand at it.

After graduating, Nanjiani moved to Chicago, performing stand-up and eventually getting spots on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and Conan O’Brien’s late-night program on TBS.

Subsequently, Nanjiani landed staff writing gigs on hit comedy shows like “The Colbert Report,” and “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” a short-lived Comedy Central Show about two friends named Michael.

In 2009, the comedy channel named Nanjiani as one of the year’s breakout comedians, alongside fellow desi comedian Aziz Ansari, for whom Nanjiani has opened at various stand-up comedy venues. Since then, Nanjiani has gone on to feature in increasingly bigger roles on both television and film, usually in guest roles.

He featured in HBO’s hit comedy “Veep,” starring “Seinfeld” co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the US Vice President. His biggest role to date came in the TNT legal farce “Franklin & Bash,” on which he played Pindar Singh, a science-fiction nerd who works with the title characters.