Film industry professionals today continue to push an inaccurate representation of the ideal South Asian—and specifically, Indian—woman. They capitalize on this misrepresentation by feeding into the stereotypical false image of the ugly Indian women. Audiences who receive this skewed narrative have accepted it, in turn encouraging today’s youth to internalize a negative image of all South Asian women. While this picture forces itself into people’s minds, very few direct attention to what creators of such media say on the issue of misrepresentation. If given the opportunity to share their perspectives, creators may be able to effectively change viewers’ minds with regard to the representation of Indian women on TV. Mindy Kaling is one such creator, having directed the Netflix series Never Have I Ever which revolves around the life of a teenage Indian girl. Understanding Mindy Kaling’s perspective on the Netflix series Never Have I Ever offers one a way of gaining insight into the many possibilities of representation for Indian women.
Unlike the traditional film industry, which overlooks the struggles and experiences of Indian women, production companies such as Netflix have made efforts to accurately portray Indian and South Asian women in Never Have I Ever, Bridgerton, and more. However, several young Indian women express discontent about these efforts. For instance Navya Charmiraju, a critic of The Tower from Grosse Pointe South High School, writes that the show includes many stereotypes of Indian culture, “but instead of debunking them, they indulge in them and further reinforce the Indian stereotypes instead of creating a more accurate depiction of the culture.” Critics like Charmiraju believe that the value of the Indian woman, as portrayed in film, consistently aligns with the romantic pursuit of men, the conformity to eurocentric beauty standards, and confinement of their desires and successes.
These critics fail to fully comprehend the goals that Mindy Kaling, the producer of Never Have I Ever, strives to achieve. Rather than supporting deep-rooted stereotypes of Indian women in film, she breaks them down through the character of Devi Vishwakumar (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), the main protagonist of Never Have I Ever. While some people might see Devi as simply a “boy-crazy” teenager, Kaling offers other layers of Devi that often go overlooked. Devi’s mom, Nalini, is an independent and career-oriented Indian woman. By navigating relationships between mother and daughter, Kaling paints a new picture of what life for Indian women could be like without the pressure of harmful stereotypes. The differences in the representation of Devi and Nalini showcase the myriad of possibilities of what these characters can mean to viewers.
Taking a look at what lead character Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has to say about the issue may offer an additional understanding of Never Have I Ever has encouraged a positive outlook on the representation of Indian women. Ramakrishnan stated in an interview that “[i]n middle school [she] would’ve killed to see any moment where the South Asian girl was […] the one that they chose. […]How many times did I want to be the white girl that they chose? Because then I realize I’m never gonna be the white girl because I’m a brown girl.” Viewers may argue that the work Ramakrishnan has done is just a bandaid for the still prevalent issues, but in reality, she has opened doors for what Indian representation could be.
The same idea applies to Kaling who, “[g]rowing up in the 80s and the 90s, there just was zero representation.” Similarly to Ramakrishnan, Kaling was “so used to being alienated” that she had to see herself in “something the closest to [her][…] like Tina Fey,” a woman making it in comedy. When she finally had “the power to create [her] own things,” she was able to say “well not only is Maitreyi going to be the lead, but her two friends are also going to be women of color […] and none of them are the sidekick.”
It is easy to jump to conclusions about a show or other piece of media when you don’t know the creator’s intentions behind it, but it is this mentality that stunts the growth of today’s youth. Bringing Kaling’s perspective to the forefront of the discussion can serve to change minds and push in the direction of equal and accurate representation of South Asian women in the media.