This year marks the fifth anniversary of Ada Tseng’s interview series Haikus with Hotties, which celebrates the hotness of Asian men, and has been accompanied by a calendar since 2016. (Read this post on the 2017 calendar for more on this series.)
Many of the hotties appearing in the 2018 calendar, available for purchase at haikuswithhotties.com, are artists and media-makers working on exciting creative projects in film, comedy, and TV. Two of them answered questions from The Aerogram, sharing what receiving this honor means to them, both personally and within the broader landscape of race and representation in mainstream American media.
Saagar Shaikh is a currently bearded L.A.-based actor, writer, and podcast host, originally from Texas. Sunkrish Bala, known for his TV roles including characters on The Walking Dead and Castle, is an actor based in L.A. Read their interview responses below, after turning up the heat with these images from the 2018 calendar.
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AM (Anjali Misra): How does it feel to be named a 2018 Hottie?
SS (Saagar Shaikh): It’s honestly pretty cool. All my life, I always thought of myself as kind of a coldie. But after taking a second look in the mirror, I can totally see where y’all are coming from.
AM: What does hotness mean to you? What are the qualities of a hottie?
SS: Hotness comes from the soul. You can’t just be born hot. You must learn it and earn it. It comes from self-awareness, it comes ambition, and it comes from a good hair product.
SB: Hotness is subjective, isn’t it? I think confidence is everyone’s best friend. I think what I find most attractive in others is an acute sense of self. Knowing the person you want to be in the world.
AM: Is being considered hot important for Asian American and Desi actors? Why?
SS: I mean, everybody wants to look their best, but I do think that being a hot desi actor might make someone a little less castable. Traditionally, white people are used to seeing us as a bunch of Apus and IT guys and that comes with a certain look.
SB: I think for years, Asian Americans and South Asians have been regarded as asexual by the American media and the arts. (Which is patently false. Clearly. There are billions of us.) That’s starting to change. This calendar is proof. It’s important to regard people — all people — as complete three-dimensional creatures.
AM: How have things like image and attractiveness standards affected your career? How have you dealt with them?
SS: Growing a beard has significantly pushed my career to the next level. I really thought I was going to have to start going out for Terrorist #1 and Sikh Friend, but they keep telling me I’m too hipster.
SB: I’ve definitely lost parts for being “too this” or “too that.” The industry likes to use the word “character.” I think it just means unattractive. I’ve been told I’m “too charactery” for roles. I’ve been told I’m “not charactery enough.” Dwelling on things like that can make anyone go insane. I’ve tried to focus on the work and ignore the things I can’t control.
AM: What are some upcoming projects you are excited about?
SS: I co-host a podcast called The Bollywood Boys Podcast and we’re back from hiatus this month! I’m also starring in a show called Unfair and Ugly that should be releasing on a digital platform sometime this month, keep an eye out for it!
AM: Any nominations for new hotties?
SS: Maaz Ali is like a brother to me and might be the hottest hottie out here.
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Anjali Misra is a Chicago-based nonprofit professional and freelance writer of media reviews, cultural criticism and short fiction work. She earned her MA in gender and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she spent nine years as a student and community organizer, focusing on inter-ethnic solidarity, interracial coalition building, and gender justice. She is an avid sci-fi media fan, and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan is her patronus.