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Disney to launch animated show with a South Asian cast

"Mira, Royal Detective" will feature the voices of several South Asian actors, including Freida Pinto, Kal Penn and Hannah Simone.

Production has begun on "Mira, Royal Detective," an

Production has begun on "Mira, Royal Detective," an animated mystery adventure series for preschoolers inspired by the cultures and customs of India.  Photo Credit: Disney Junior

In a first for preschooler TV, Disney Junior will launch an animated series in 2020 with a South Asian cast. Entitled "Mira, Royal Detective," Disney says the otherwise decidedly Disney-esque series will be "set in the magical Indian-inspired land of Jalpur, the series follows the brave and resourceful Mira, a commoner who is appointed to the role of royal detective after solving a mystery that involves saving the kingdom's young prince."

The voice cast includes many prominent actors who have been part of TV/movie's current "moment" for South Asians — Freida Pinto (2008's "Slumdog Millionaire," Hulu's "The Path"), Hannah Simone (Fox's "New Girl"), Kal Penn (the "Harold and Kumar" feature films), Jameela Jamil (NBC's "The Good Place"), Utkarsh Ambudkar (2012-17 Fox and Hulu series "The Mindy Project"), Aasif Mandvi (Comedy Central's "The Daily Show"), Sarita Choudhury (Showtime's "Homeland") and Aparna Nancherla (Netflix's "BoJack Horseman"). Sarayu Blue — who currently stars in the NBC sitcom "I Feel Bad," which is the third commercial network series with a female South Asian lead (Mindy Kaling's "The Mindy Project" and Priyanka Chopra's "Quantico" preceded) — will also voice a character.

The role of Mira will be voiced by TV newcomer Leela Ladnier.

In a statement, Disney Junior's chief of original programming Joe D'Ambrosia, said, "We are eager to introduce kids and their families to the rich, diverse cultures and customs of India through Mira, a young girl who looks at things with her own unique lens to gain different perspectives and help others in her community."

A U.S. animated series with an all-South Asian cast is unprecedented, although not the first with a South Asian lead — Nickelodeon's "Sanjay and Craig," starring Maulik Pancholy as Sanjay, aired on that network from 2013 to 2016.

Over the past decade, starring roles for South Asians — a term that encompasses the entire Indian subcontinent including Pakistan — have gone from none to about two dozen on network, cable and streaming series. The vast majority of these roles arrived in just the past few years, many in the past few months.  

From 1989 until about 2012 when "The Mindy Project" launched, the most prominent "Indian-American" on TV was Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of Fox's "The Simpsons." Of course, the cruel joke is that Apu wasn't Indian-American at all but a cartoon cliché voiced by Hank Azaria. Comedian and "Simpsons" admirer Hari Kondabolu produced a 2017 film titled "The Problem with Apu," which argued that Apu had turned into a hurtful stereotype and epithet directed at a generation of Indian-Americans.

Of "Mira," Disney Junior said that she will travel "throughout the kingdom helping royals and commoners alike. Along with her friend Prince Neel (Choudhury), a talented inventor, creative cousin Priya (newcomer Roshni Edwards), and comical mongoose sidekicks Mikku and Chikku (Penn and Ambudkar, respectively), she will stop at nothing to solve a case, taking young viewers on adventures that highlight critical thinking and encourage deductive reasoning. Rooted in India's vibrant heritage, each episode will weave authentic music, dance and customs into two 11-minutes stories."

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