How Parvesh Cheena went from Naperville 'class clown' to 'Tiger Hunter' movie

  • Parvesh Cheena plays one of many roommates in the new comedy "The Tiger Hunter."

    Parvesh Cheena plays one of many roommates in the new comedy "The Tiger Hunter."

  • Comedian Parvesh Cheena, right, hails from Elk Grove Village and Naperville. Danny Pudi, left, is from Chicago. Both are in a new comedy movie, "The Tiger Hunter."

    Comedian Parvesh Cheena, right, hails from Elk Grove Village and Naperville. Danny Pudi, left, is from Chicago. Both are in a new comedy movie, "The Tiger Hunter."

 
 
Updated 9/22/2017 10:52 AM

Parvesh Cheena blames himself for the extra takes and time it took to shoot a bedroom scene with his fellow Indian actors during their new movie "The Tiger Hunter."

The comedy, opening Friday, Sept. 22, takes place in 1979 Chicago where several high-tech-trained Indian immigrants live in a single apartment to save money, and they must cram themselves into the tight quarters of their only bed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We had to do a lot of takes, because I would be making sounds," confessed Cheena, an Elk Grove Village native who grew up Naperville.

Sounds? Yes, as in the kind a junior high kid makes to entertain his friends. It didn't help that they'd all had Mexican food for lunch.

Cheena -- an actor, producer, writer and comedian -- has racked up an impressive resume of work on TV shows, in movies and with voice-overs for commercials and cartoons. But he's mostly known for playing the role of Gupta in the NBC culture-clash comedy TV series "Outsourced," about an American manager sent to Mumbai to supervise a call center.

In "The Tiger Hunter," Chicago actor Danny Pudi plays the main character, an immigrant engineer forced to work as a lowly draftsman in the basement of a Chicago corporate office. Cheena plays a small supporting role.

"I will take anything to pay rent," Cheena confessed. "I'll take worse! I have no ego!"

Plus, he pointed out, "The Tiger Hunter" is the first feature directed by Lena Khan, a Muslim woman.

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"This is a huge change," he noted. "We don't have a lot of female directors of color, let alone a director who's Muslim!"

Originally from Elk Grove Village, Cheena and his family moved to Naperville when he was young.

"I was sort of a class clown from junior high on," Cheena said. "I'd be doing plays and when I'd say something wrong, screw up my lines or ad-lib, I'd get laughs. So I carried that on to high school."

He graduated from Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora where he met a remarkable teacher named Rebecca Schreiber, whom he calls one of his best mentors and biggest fans.

"She cast colorblind," Cheena said. "Imagine me being a 14- or 15-year-old kid in '93 or '94, being cast as a brother in a family of all-white actors. You didn't do that back then!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"People of color were maids and servants, or best friends. The beginning of my career was not like that. She directed some of my favorite performances."

Cheena went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign but transferred to Chicago's Roosevelt University after supporting roles in the first two Chicago-set "Barbershop" comedies.

He auditioned for a New York Indian musical production titled "Mumbai Dreams," but he was not cast, prompting Cheena to move to Los Angeles in January 2004.

He didn't have much work at first but landed commercials and his first TV guest shot during his first year on the West Coast.

"That got me off on a really nice pace," he noted.

Cheena now feels comfortable enough to talk about bringing his mother from Naperville to Burbank, a town he swears could be mistaken for Naperville.

"Or Wheaton," he said. "It's closer to Wheaton."

Acceptance of Indians and Indian-Americans has improved in society, but Cheena said racism still lurks.

"One time Mom was parking the car and some guy yelled, 'Go back to your own country!' And Mom shouted back, 'We're here!' And walked on."

Cheena said people of color still must deal with "coded language."

As when white people ask him where he's from.

"I tell them Chicago," he said. "Then they ask, 'No, where are you really from?' They want to know my ethnic makeup. But they don't actually ask that. So now when people ask me where I'm really from, I say, 'You're right! I'm from Naperville!'"

-- Dann Gire

• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are looking for suburbanites in show business. If you know someone with a good story, contact them at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com or dgire@dailyherald.com.

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