ach week, more than 200,000 South Asians around the world visit Badmash.org for a dose of irreverent humor with a South Asian twist. The weekly comic strip that lambasts everything from South Asian culture to American politics is the brainchild of Sandeep Sood, Nimesh Patel and Sanjay Shah, three overachieving young desis from California. Each boasts an impressive list of personal accomplishments, ranging from founding an e-learning company to graduating from the Wharton School of Business to working for the California legislature. And all three have a penchant for Indian acting superstar Amitabh Bachan, whom Badmash publicly endorsed as the 2004 “Green Card Party” candidate for the American president. (They believe Bachan offers more “dishoom” than either the Democratic or Republican nominees.)
But Sood, Patel and Shah are more than just funny boys with sparkling resumes—they also run Mahoot Media, a marketing agency that specializes in the South Asian American market. Mahoot’s clients have included New Line Cinema (the trio developed a 6-week campaign to market the film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle to the South Asian demographic) and ArtWallah, the largest South Asian arts festival in the United States.
Their success with both Badmash and Mahoot has been phenomenal, yet their personas remain shrouded in mystery. Nirali hunted down the trio for an exclusive interview.
How did the three of you come together?
Sanjay: We met while we were working as Civil War re-enactors in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Sandeep played Ulysses S. Grant, Nimesh played Robert E. Lee, and I assumed the role of Harry Lo, the first Chinese-American submariner.
Sandeep: We didn’t know each other before that, but war has a way of forging a bond between young men and women.
Nimesh: Yes, indeed. Westside for life.
We’re news junkies. A lot of material springs from that. And, of course, we ask ourselves … WWAD (What Would Amitabh Do)?
So which came first, Badmash or Mahoot?
Nimesh: We started both independently about two summers ago. Many of our initial meetings took place at the beach while we were sitting on our surfboards waiting for waves. Sometimes we had to wait a long time, so they were pretty productive meetings.
Did those names just come to you while waiting for the waves, as well?
Sanjay: We chose Badmash because sometimes we like to talk to our food before we eat it.
Sandeep: We chose Mahoot because, you know, what’s there not to like about that word?
Nimesh: I can’t believe I work with these guys.
Sometimes your comic strips poke fun at South Asian culture and sometimes they mock American politics. How do you come up with the ideas for the strip each week?
Sandeep: Sanjay has this 6-year-old cousin who is a child prodigy. He actually writes them.
Nimesh: Usually one person will write a strip and the others will hack it to death.
Sanjay: Also, we’re news junkies. A lot of material springs from that. And, of course, we ask ourselves … WWAD (What Would Amitabh Do)?
What is up with the obsession with all things Amitabh?
Sanjay: It’s important to have heroes. Who are we to look up to if not heroes? Heroes alleviate human suffering, nobly sacrifice their personal desires to better the world, and inspire us to boldly confront adversity. Amitabh is a hero. He is my hero. He is your hero.
Sandeep: (weeping) I always cry when he gives that speech.
OK, settle down. Do you guys illustrate Badmash yourselves, too?
Sanjay: I used to take art classes, but I was expelled for eating the paste.
Sandeep: We spend most of our time illustrating in the medium of text, using sentences and paragraphs as our canvas. Do you like that? I should write speeches for politicians.
Nimesh: The initial member of our group who illustrated Badmash landed a great deal with a comic book publisher, so he left to focus upon that. Since then, we’ve set up a team of animators and illustrators with whom we work on the comic strip, animations, and the design work we do through both Badmash and Mahoot.
Heroes alleviate human suffering, nobly sacrifice their personal desires to better the world, and inspire us to boldly confront adversity. Amitabh is a hero. He is my hero. He is your hero.
It seems like everybody and their dadi reads Badmash. Did you anticipate the enormous positive response?
Sanjay: Yes. What’s there not to like about a comic strip?
Sandeep: We anticipated positive response to the strip … at least it would give folks something funny to read while procrastinating at work!
Nimesh: Yeah, but we had no idea just how popular the site would be! We’ve had to upgrade our server many times just to handle the number of subscribers and visitors to the site.
If we didn’t know better, based on your resumes, we’d think you’re all stodgy business types. What’s your defense?
Sanjay: (choking with laughter)
Sandeep: (resuscitating Sanjay with Heimlich maneuver) Stodgy business types? Have you seen our hair?
Nimesh: Yes, it’s true that we’ve all done time working for The Man—experiences that gave us business sensibilities. Yes, it’s true that we’ve had some success in the corporate and government jobs we’ve held in the past. But we always had creative bugs to feed on the side. I performed hip hop. Sanjay did stand up. Sandeep was a Russian cosmonaut.
So then why did you feel there was a need for an organization like Mahoot? How do you define its success?
Sanjay: Uh … Sandeep, why did we feel there was a need for an organization like Mahoot?
Sandeep: Because, unfortunately Sanjay, so much of the entertainment and advertising world is boring and misguided—especially when it comes to addressing South Asian subject matter.
Nimesh: We define our success by our server crashing multiple times from all the traffic hitting our web site whenever we launch an animation or a great comic strip. On the business side of things, our customers have been very satisfied with the tasteful and effective ads we design for them—it gets them the attention they want.
Do you all work for Mahoot full-time? Is it paying the bills?
Sanjay: Who works full-time at just one job anymore? That’s so 1990s.
Sandeep: We all have multiple projects going on that create a “perfect storm” of sustenance. Also, mom periodically sends frozen palak paneer.
Nimesh: Yeah, Mahoot is profitable, but most of our profit is reinvested back into our projects.
We always had creative bugs to feed on the side. I performed hip hop. Sanjay did stand up. Sandeep was a Russian cosmonaut.
We have to know—who is really the brains behind the operation?
Sanjay: Good question. Probably one of those South Asian kids who won the National Spelling Bee. They seem pretty smart.
Sandeep: Brains? Operation? We all dropped the pre-med track to avoid questions like that. Geez.
Nimesh: Sandeep is the brains behind Sanjay. I’m the brains behind Sandeep. Sanjay is the brains behind me. It’s complicated.
It sounds like you guys are always thinking about the “next big thing.” What’s in the works for the future?
Sandeep: More great animations like the “Amitabh for America” spoof!
Sanjay: We’re also in development on a feature film that is not about arranged marriages, how South Asia is “so spiritual,” or parents who won’t let their daughters play soccer.
Nimesh: Our clients are keeping Mahoot pretty busy, we want to expand our newly launched Badmash store, and, if a few deals go through, you’ll find our work in some surprising places!
If you had to sum up your whole experience with Badmash and Mahoot in one word, what would it be?