‘The way I was written off Neighbours was beyond insulting’

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Sachin Joab says the US is far more progressive than Australia in terms of casting ethnic actors

He shot to fame as father of the first Indian family (and first non-white family) in 25 years to star on Australia’s iconic TV soap Neighbours. After being unceremoniously written out of the show after only a year, Sachin Joab packed his bags for Hollywood.

He tells the Indian Sun why the United States is far more progressive than Australia and Neighbours remains his biggest regret.

“It took me approximately 15 years to get that first role in Australia and it took me only three months to get two professional roles in Hollywood,” Joab told the Indian Sun from Melbourne — having flown into town Easter Sunday after filming in Los Angeles.

There’s simply more roles for ethnic actors in the US, as Joab puts it “you see every shade from black to white”. Take a show like Grey’s Anatomy. “There’s probably more African American doctors on that show than there are Caucasian doctors.”

“Whereas you look at an Australian hospital drama, like say, Offspring – you’ve got one non-white actor and… all the other cast members that play the doctors or nurses or receptionists or even patients are predominantly all white,” Joab said. “It doesn’t ring true because if you look at the country of Australia it’s quite multicultural.”

Joab joined Neighbours in 2011 as Ajay Kapoor after successfully auditioning for a new role that had been created for an Indian Australian actor. The breakthrough gig was the brainchild of producer Susan Bower, who was pitching to win a bigger international audience for the long-running soap, amid declining ratings in Australia.

“The biggest audience for Neighbours was Britain, so they figured alright well what’s the main ethnicity there? And as we all know the main ethnicity is Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan,” Joab explained. “I got the role, and then after a couple of months they thought ‘Okay we like him, so we’ll bring on the wife and we’ll find a girl to play the daughter’.”

“Unfortunately for us, somewhere in that time the producer who made that decision, that very forward thinking 21st century decision, left and the producer that came in to replace her, they basically had different ideas,” he said. “They wrote the whole Kapoor family out within a year, which is basically the minimum contract.”

Joab’s fictional wife Priya Kapoor was killed off – dying from injuries sustained in an explosion. Soon after, Ajay and his daughter Rani left Ramsey Street to go back to India; the Kapoors were swiftly replaced by all-Caucasian actors. This happened after the new family was well received in Britain (where ratings increased), while their entrance on the scene triggered a racist backlash in Australia, with nasty comments having to be removed from the show’s websites.

Joab said the way the characters were written out was “beyond insulting”. “As in oh you know, off you go, back to India.”

Since moving to the States in 2013, Joab has played alongside former Will and Grace star Eric McCormack and Rachael Leigh Cook, of She’s All That fame, on American TV crime show Perception, and scored a role in the feature film Hard Road, starring US Deal or No Deal presenter Howie Mandel. He’s also completed a US pilot, currently being pitched to networks, and is working on two feature films. “One is an American film being shot in L.A., that’s already started filming, and the other has also started filming across India and Australia – both of them should be completed around about 2016, 2017,” Joab said.

“So there’ve been some good moments, but of course neighbours will always be a regret because I genuinely really did love being there and thinking I was a part of this family,” Joab said. “And as a family, I thought ‘Man sky’s the limit, we could be here like a lot of those long-running families, we could be here for 10 years.”

“To be let go from that, that was very hard to take,” he said.

“Of course it is exciting working with different actors, different locations, international, national, directors all around the world. But at the end of the day for me, I just love acting, I love the craft, so if I can stay in one place and do that day in day out and earn a living, then you know I’m happy,” he said. “And that’s what I had and I just wished it would of gone on for the equal amount of time or the fair amount of time that other Caucasian actors got.”

But as Joab pointed out, the TV Networks in Australia are still very much segregated along racial lines. With Seven, Nine and Ten showing predominately white faces – from dramas to the news, panel shows and even Weetbix commercials – while SBS and indigenous Australian network NIT sit, “on the other end of the spectrum”.

“It would be nice to just have what American has – yes they do have their predominately Caucasian networks,” Joab said. “But the majority of the networks in fact will be all mixed. You’ll see daily news being represented in the evening and you’ll see a white American right next to a black American, you’ll see a Latino American [reading] the weather.”

“It really does represent what the country looks like… it would be nice if Australia caught up with that,” he said.

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