Can the desi male body become the new western fantasy?

TEXT Dan Hastings-Narayanin 

Has the demand for a desi male body in mainstream culture led to the desexualization?

When actor Kumail Nanjiani broke the internet at the end of 2019 with a shirtless picture showing off this newly transformed pumped body, thousands of women and men were left drooling over it. And then when he flaunted about this picture being reused by Pornhub, the new Marvel actor created conversations around beauty and sex standards for South Asian men.

For Caroline Vasquez and Claudia Ferreira- two French journalists who specialize in topics related to women and pop culture admitted that Kumail is still ‘not their type.’ On the contrary, they expressed that Asian men can be sexy and fit into the fantasy of many women. Having grown up in a predominantly white country, they justify that ‘For us here, South Asian men are the ones running 24/7 grocery shops.’ According to @yourauntpulandevii – an Instagram account run by a young aid worker promoting brown history, the western knowledge of desi culture does not go further than Bollywood, Taj Mahal, poverty, rape culture and many barely even know Sri Lanka exists. She adds “We don’t see much of the desi man in media albeit documentaries on poverty. Ultimately, the lack of representation in western culture leads to misreading, suspicion, and ignorance. No one can fantasize about them if they are not represented anywhere.” Having a captured a bit of international spotlight, the Slumdog Millionaire and Mission: Impossible actor Anil Kapoor and model Satya Oblette who was scouted by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Kenzo in the 2000’s have shown some advancement. Pulan Devii expresses how proud she and her mother were of this Indian personality embodying westernized beauty standards. And this brings us to the Givenchy F/W 20 collection which was entirely inspired by Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, Maharaja of Indore. It was an astonishing event to watch a desi man and his masculinity setting the tone of a French luxury couture house.

As our wait for South-Asian men in cinema and fashion continues, their representation in professional porn is almost non-existent. And the revolutionized Pakistani-American actor has given us a ray of hope. For his upcoming role in ‘The Eternals’, Nanjiani spent a year working out with trainers and specialized dietitians. Ripped like a bodybuilder, he is being referred to as ‘ridiculously fit and sexy’ on multiple media platforms. But his transformation and achievement of the lead role of a superhero might not just be enough to change the paradigm. Journalist Claudia says, “Let’s take Jackie Chan for instance. He is ripped but I don’t find him sexy.” Yet when it is Jean-Claude Van Damme- the Belgian actor starring in the exact kind of action films, it feels different to her. So, even a bulked up and hairless South Asian man will not be enough until the industry works on diverse representation and we as individuals keep away from the so called ‘ideal beauty’ standards.