Culture Consultant

Advising TV and movie creators to accurately present south Asian characters

Headshot of Deepak Sarma
Deepak Sarma

When Deepak Sarma, PhD, a professor of Indian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve, isn’t pondering the deepest questions, they’re often watching cartoons.

As a cultural consultant for Mattel and other major entertainment companies, Sarma advises several animated children’s shows on their depictions of South Asian culture. Sarma believes audiences benefit from more accurate portrayals of South Asia.

A cartoon pink and green train with a female face.Image: MattelAshima, a new character in the Thomas the Tank Engine series, works on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in southern India.

“My wife is a doctor, and whenever she watches a medical show on TV, she’s just writhing on the sofa at all the inaccuracies,” they said. “It’s the same for me whenever I see media representing South Asia.”

Sarma advises show creators on everything from the correct pronunciation of Indian names to the foods characters might eat to costumes and set design.

One current project with Mattel involves a new Thomas and Friends cartoon series in which Thomas the Tank Engine is joined by a diverse collection of trains, including one from South Asia. Sarma is also working with Moonbug, the company behind the animated Cocomelon and Little Baby Bum videos.

“Some of my students’ siblings love Cocomelon,” Sarma said. “Working on these shows gives me a funny kind of street cred.”

— Jennie Yabroff