The following interview with Megan Suri contains a massive SPOILER ALERT.
TW: discussion of anorexia
With the recent release of “Never Have I Ever” Season 2 on Netflix, we got the chance to interview Megan Suri, who stole the show as confident & striking new girl Aneesa Qureshi. Aneesa is introduced in Season 2 Episode 4, “Never Have I Ever…Had An Indian Frenemy,” as she seeks a fresh start upon transferring from Toluca Prep to Sherman Oaks High. Her confidence and radiance quickly intimidates series protagonist Devi Vishwakumar.
Devi makes Aneesa her first Indian friend, but not before chaos ensues. Megan Suri talked about her love of Megan Thee Stallion, spirituality, Aneesa’s complexity and the importance of a decolonized mindset.
What was your experience joining “Never Have I Ever” Season 2?
“Everyone was so kind and welcoming! Even though my character was the new girl, I was never made to feel like an outsider. [When] I ran into Mindy Kaling — she was so sweet. She said, ‘I feel like I’ve known you!'”
You’re no stranger to TV, having appeared in “Atypical” and “Fresh Off The Boat” previously. Can you tell us about your funniest experience auditioning over Zoom?
“The funniest audition I had, even though it went terribly, was with this guy I had seen before but couldn’t remember from where. He turned out to be a cast member from ’90 Day Fiancé.’ So that was really strange!”
Do you watch “Love Island”? I feel like you would enjoy it.
“I like “Love Island” – the British version. British reality TV is the best! I started my journey into “Love Island” three years ago, watching clips on YouTube.”
There are many romantic dynamics at play on “Love Island,” just as there are on “Never Have I Ever.” Devi is caught between Ben and Paxton, until Aneesa starts dating Ben. What can we expect from Aneesa in Season 3?
“I feel like my girl Aneesa got done a little dirty. We need to denormalize this idea of boys–or anyone, really– jumping in and out of romantic relationships without healing first. Ultimately, I hope that we see Aneesa choose herself. I just want good things for my girl. She’s too cool to end up with a guy who has feelings for someone else!”
Aneesa definitely deserves better! Speaking of relationships: in your podcast with Green Actors Guild, you mentioned how Indian-Americans no longer have access to the same meet-cutes and matchmaking schemes that their parents did. For brown women: the choices are endless, but they still come with a responsibility to find “the one”. How have you navigated finding love as a brown girl?
“The reality is I’m in my early 20s. I’m still figuring it out! Both of my parents had a love marriage. My dad even encourages me to date! Something I’ve learned about love from “Never Have I Ever” is that: you are the one that you need. Working on yourself, [cultivating] organic love within yourself, and being open to receiving love is so much better than chasing love or treating it as a deadline.”
As you said earlier: you have to heal yourself before you can love yourself, or anyone else.
“Exactly! Once you do that, you attract what’s meant to be in your life. I’ve seen my manifestations come into fruition, so I’m speaking from a place of honesty.”
I get it! I noticed that you follow spiritual.diary and spiritual.teachers.of.our.time on Instagram. I’m curious: how has spirituality played into your own life?
“I’m still on my journey. It’s constantly finding answers throughout the universe. But it has been super helpful for me. It’s allowed me to stay grounded, as a crazy over-thinker. Knowing that everything just falls into place and seeing that in my own life has helped me calm down. That trickles into acting: auditions, rejections, etc. It all plays into it.”
Aneesa is very confident in her Muslim identity and having core values such as compassion, tenacity, and the ability to forgive others. She’s such an authentically cool person. How were you able to channel such a complex character?
“The effortlessly cool thing was not effortless for me! I’d say Aneesa’s confidence came from the clothes. A few weeks after the show had ended, [the cast] had to come back in for character shoots. I panicked, because I had forgotten what being Aneesa was like. But when I put on my costume, Aneesa came back. Muscle memory.”
More on the clothes. Aneesa’s style blends her athleticism from playing defensive soccer and her heritage as an Indian woman. What was your favorite fit?
“I loved her first day outfit. I loved all of Aneesa’s shoes; I wish you got to see more of them. I wore this outfit in Episode 4 — a neon yellow situation, because Aneesa’s whole style is monochromatic — and the drip was fantastic.”
You know what else is fantastic? Your eyebrow shape.
[laughs] “Thank you! Shoutout to my girl Aarti. She’s been doing my eyebrows since I was in 5th grade. Give these brows two weeks, and I’ll start looking like my little brother.”
[laughs] It’s okay. I’ll be lucky if my unibrow moment arrives as far out as two weeks.
“You’ll love Aarti! She’s great.”
I hear you! So you grew up in L.A., but you also lived in India for 2 1?2 years. What was it like to grow up at the convergence of so much creativity and joy?
“Being on set since I was 8 years old [means that] acting has become a part of me. But I also have a foundation and connection to India. I’m American, and Indian. Very much in the middle!”
I think many Indian-Americans would understand your situation, of reconciling the hybridity of our cultures. As creatives, we’re [sometimes taught to] choose between being Indian or American, when you can be both.
“Exactly! You can be both. I’m an actor today because of my parents. They support me, even when it gets hard. Us actors, we’re expected to be deep feelers and [simultaneously] capable of brushing off rejection. Having a parental support system really means the world.”
Rejection is a huge theme in Never Have I Ever as well. What is your advice to Indian-American creatives on not relying on external validation?
“Rejection is inevitable. But also –some of the biggest moments of my career, in recent years, have been thanks to South Asian women creating that ladder to allow girls [like me]. Everything happens for a reason. Solidify your confidence in yourself as an artist & connect to your communities!”
Well said! So you’ve starred as Quinn in “Atypical”, Aneesa in “Never Have I Ever”, and Bindu in “The Miseducation Of Bindu”–
“You watched “The Miseducation Of Bindu”? That’s crazy!”
[laughs] I did! Why do you sound surprised?
[joking] “You watch stuff that I’m in? What?”
Yes! I noticed how different your characters were: Bindu struggles to gain confidence in high school, whereas Aneesa is confident from the jump. Whose teenage journey of confidence aligned most with your own: Bindu’s? Aneesa’s? Or Quinn’s?
“On the outside, I acted like Aneesa, because I was involved in sports and can be extroverted. On the inside, I felt like Bindu — super insecure and awkward. And I loved working on Atypical, but I [couldn’t relate] to Quinn. She’s the mean private school girl, you know? She probably could have been one of the private school girls who bullied Aneesa.”
Funny you mentioned that…have you seen the theory going around TikTok?
“No! What is it?”
This TikToker played a clip of Quinn at private school asking Casey if she was bulimic, followed by a clip of Aneesa telling her friends how she’d been bullied at private school. So the theory going around is that Atypical’s Clayton Prep is right next to Sherman Oaks, and Quinn bullied Aneesa in-universe. What’s your perspective on this crossover?
[laughs] “It could be true. It could be! I wouldn’t be surprised.”
On Twitter, you said “At this point, I only have Twitter to support @theestallion on as many platforms as I possibly can” and honestly, I could not think of a more legitimate reason to use Twitter. If you woke up as Aneesa tomorrow, and could only curate the soundtrack of your life with Megan Thee Stallion songs, which ones would you pick?
[laughs] ‘Top 4: Captain Hook, Realer, B.I.T.C.H., Thot S**t. I immediately connected with Megan [Thee Stallion] and her energy. Her music helped me tap into this inner confidence which all women have but are sometimes forced to minimize.”
Aneesa, who is very confident à la Thee Stallion, speaks about the pervasiveness of Eurocentric beauty standards, and how South Asian girls often turn to powerful symbols of Indian femininity like the nose ring to decolonize their noses. As an actress in Hollywood, how have you decolonized your mindset?
“The more that we see girls who look like us, the more we can overcome the notion that there’s only one idea of what beauty looks like. As for decolonizing my mindset, I’ve started to love myself and tell myself: you look great as you are. Diminish the ideas of colorism that are prevalent, even in our own communities. Through doing that, along with surrounding myself with women who have shared my struggle, I’ve developed a love for myself I did not have growing up as a teenager.”
Brown characters on “Never Have I Ever” struggle to decolonize their own mindsets from depression, anxiety, and now, eating disorders. Aneesa grapples with anorexia. What did it mean to play a character with an ED? How’d you get in that headspace?
“I had no idea that Aneesa had an ED until my first fitting. I made sure to research, watch TedTalks, and read interviews to prepare for that headspace, but the Never Have I Ever writers also consulted with a doctor to make sure Aneesa’s behavioral patterns in-script were consistent with those of patients dealing with anorexia. I hope my portrayal of Aneesa inspires anyone who suffers from anorexia or any other mental health disorder to reach out for help, and to know they are not alone.”
Name some things that you’ve been obsessed with lately.
“Number one: Chalk ASMR helps me destress. Number two: sleeping. Number three: I’m obsessed with getting my little brother to like me, because I’ve realized he’s the coolest guy I know. He’s also a Virgo, so he’s very mysterious. I want to know more about him!”
Speaking of Virgos…what’s your Big 3? Have you given any thought to Aneesa’s?
“What do you think they are? I like to ask people.”
I know your birthday. I have a solid lead on the first one.
[sighs] “Then you know me! Aries Sun, Leo Moon, Sagittarius Rising — fire signs. Aneesa’s very grounded — earth signs for her. Good thing we haven’t established Aneesa’s birthday yet!”
Lately, brown women are getting cast as royal detectives, superheroes, fantasy warriors. Hollywood is teaching brown girls that they can be anything. Which South Asian leading lady has been your favorite to watch?
“I’m happy to see that there are so many of us! I love Jameela Jamil, because of how outspoken she is. It’s also been really cool to watch Maitreyi’s star rise.”
Indeed! Lastly: what does representation mean to you?
“Less tokenization for our identities and more recognition for our acting abilities. Less “Oh, that’s the brown actress!” and more “Oh, that’s the actress that happens to be brown!”. Being brown is not a monolithic experience, so it’s important to create stories that reflect our reality.”
Catch Megan Suri on “Never Have I Ever” Season 2, now streaming on Netflix.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.