‘Never Have I Ever’ Felt So Seen By a Mainstream TV Show

Never Have I Ever
[Photo Source: Screenshot / Netflix]

When I first heard about Mindy Kaling’s new show, “Never Have I Ever,” a few emotions went through my brain. One, YES to more South Asian representation in media. Two, I can’t wait for a show to come out that actually relates somewhat to my high school experience and struggles with my identity and culture. And, three, this show is either going to be a hit or miss – which made me a little nervous because this show was set to be a breakthrough for South Asians, so it was really important for Mindy to nail the message.

And boy, it did NOT disappoint.

This coming-of-age story adds a fresh twist to an old formula: quirky, relatable, and just straight up hilarious. “Never Have I Ever” follows the journey of the complicated life of a modern-day first-generation Indian-American teenage girl, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her high school dilemmas while constantly sparring with her concerned mom (Poorna Jagnnathan), living up to the expectations of her over-achieving cousin, Kamla (Richa Moorjani), shifting dynamics of her friend group (Ramona Young, Lee Roudriquez) all while pining over heartthrob, Paxton (Darren Barnet).

Starting with the characters, I want to say I was super impressed to see such a diverse cast. There were people of color everywhere, from Devi’s therapist, to the principal, to different class members – this was definitely a high point of the show. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan did a phenomenal job of playing that likable, relatable and confused all at once teen who is trying to navigate her awkward years. But Devi is far from the perfect daughter, and “Devi Nonsense” pops up at the most opportune moments. She has mommy AND daddy issues and a temper.

The supporting cast fills in admirably, with Poorna Jagannathan stealing the show by immersing herself in the meaty role of working mom, Nalini, with high expectations of herself and her daughter. I felt really connected with Nalini as well because she honestly reminded me of my mom, someone who wanted the best for their daughter but didn’t know how to be completely proud and accepting of who they are. Kamala further upends stereotypes, at first she’s the complete opposite of Devi – at least, that’s what we’re supposed to think… I really enjoyed watching her character journey and having her be this antagonist to Devi that evolves beautifully. Other characters I really identified with were the gossiping aunties at weddings, the priest, and the well-meaning uncle who can only talk about his business!

As someone who was born and raised in the USA with a pretty liberal family, I felt as though most of themes in “Never Have I Ever” really nailed how I had been feeling as a high-schooler – the most important one being identity. Growing up in the USA, but being Indian, I always felt a little culture/identity confused. On one hand, I was embarrassed of being “too Indian,” and on the other hand, my parents at home were telling me that I wasn’t being “Indian enough.” Finding that ground has always been very difficult.

The part of “Never Have I Ever” that really spoke to me was the Ganesh Puja episode when Devi talks to her friends who had gone to college and returned for the puja and she says “When I get into Princeton I’m never coming back.” I felt like college was the do-over area of my life, where I could finally be “normal” and shed my Indian-ness away so I wouldn’t have to be so confused about my identity. But the minute I got to college, I saw how appreciative and open others were about their cultures in comparison to high school. It helped me appreciate my brownness SO much more. I really dove into my heritage and started being so proud of my desi roots.

Never Have I Ever - Devi at Ganesh Puja
[Photo Source: Screenshot / Netflix]
Another part of my identity that was touched upon in the show was feeling ugly in high school, inside and out. A lot of this was due to being surrounded by the pretty “norm” of white people, and having a darker complexion, Indians are constantly associate with being nerds and just having a similar lack of confidence as Devi – so many of us believe that the little Indian girl will never get the hottest guy on the campus. I always felt like I was trying to impress people to fit in, and I think a lot of others can relate.

One thing that I couldn’t relate was the storyline of Devi’s need to deflower herself. Devi is a virgin in high school, and her mission is to get laid. This might be a generation gap of Gen Z and myself because I don’t even think I knew what sex was in high school. I remember wanting to have a boyfriend, sure, but I never thought about sex as a sophomore. Do I appreciate that sex is being brought up in the show? Yes, and I think it’s time we normalize the conversation around sex. But do I think that it was something that should have been a big storyline? No. Personally, I think I would liked it to be more PG.

Other themes in “Never Have I Ever” that I absolutely loved were the discussion around topics considered taboo in the South Asian culture: the LGBTQ community, miscarriages, single parents, love marriages, and mental health (I just love that Devi had a therapist!)

So my overall thoughts on the show? FANTASTIC. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, RELATABLE AF. I strongly think that this show captured the essence of an American desi and the struggles & privileges we experienced growing up in the USA. One of the funniest things on the show for me was when Devi and her mom got into a fight, and then her mom refused to give her and her friends snacks while they were studying. Been there, been starved.

Never Have I Ever - Ashes Scene
[Photo Source: Screenshot / Netflix]
I absolutely loved Devi and Nalini’s relationship. It really took me back to my frustration with my mom growing up and that major cultural gap (my dad was my savior too!). The culture of the show was so rich and accurate to my own story – no shoes at home, cremation in ashes, eating Indian food for dinner as a family, fighting with mom about Ganesh Puja clothing, etc. And the pop culture references had me cracking up (“The Bachelor,” “Priyanka Chopra,” “Westworld”). On the other hand, some parts of the show were a little too exaggerated for me, like the whole virgin thing, Devi calling her mom a “bitch,” Devi running away after a fight with her mom and staying with Ben, and the way Devi’s mom insulted Paxton’s intelligence. But the final episode was beautiful and a tear-jerker, so have some tissues ready!

Now a Season 2 seems obvious, so let’s talk about what I hope to see next season, shall we? Character evolution. I want to see Devi learning to accept and be proud of her Desi culture and background. I want to see Nalini starting to accept more of Western culture, growing her mother-daughter relationship with Devi and meeting her halfway more, while also learning to find her own identity without her husband. I want to see Kamala’s voice grow and have her stand up for herself and Devi when it comes to topics like arranged marriage and sex. I would love to see a more open conversation with her and Devi about this since they’ve established an older and younger sister dynamic. I want to see more flashbacks of Devi’s dad and maybe touching on the gender roles between men and women in South Asian society.

Lastly, I’d love to see Devi in a love square with Paxton, Ben and an Indian boy, the struggle with interracial relationships and choosing someone of your culture is definitely prevalent in today’s South Asian community – I wonder how that would play out on tv.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan wrote an important note on Twitter that needs to be heard by us all:

I think we all should remember this while watching the show. I’ve been seeing some backlash about “Never Have I Ever,” and I can’t help but think that people are nitpicking. This show is a huge win for South Asians. Sure there are things that need to be improved, but overall this show KILLED IT in describing an authentic South Asian story. We’re so happy it exists in mainstream media, and can’t wait to see more shows with our identities in front of the screen.

By Nehal Tenany

Consumed by wanderlust and dreaming about her next escape, Nehal Tenany’s online destination provides a roundtrip ticket into her life. … Read more ›

Anya Banerjee: The New Face of NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’

Anya Banerjee
Anya Banerjee

Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’sThe Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.

[Read Related: Sri Rao and the Future of South Asian Diasporic Cinema]

An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:

People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?

As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.

Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?

I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.


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A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?

Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of  the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.

How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?

Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.

How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?

Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that  I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.


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A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

Are there certain roles you feel suit you better?

I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.

Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?

I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.

Is there a dream role you would want to play?

On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”

You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?

Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.

You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?

There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.

[Read Related: Manish Dayal on ‘The Resident’ & Telling Stories During and About a Pandemic]


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A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.

What is something not many people know about you?

I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?

Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!

Photo Courtesy of Ted Ely

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Anita Verma-Lallian Talks Camelback Productions and the Need for Greater South Asian Representation

Camelback Productions

Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.

[Read Related: Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company ]

Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.

Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?

The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.

For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way. 

You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?

Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities.  And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people. 

Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.

Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.

What kind of content are you looking to create?

Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message. 

On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?

Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.  

Is there a significance to the name Camelback?

Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix. It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.

The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.

To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!

What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?

The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can. I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.

Photo Credit: Claudia Johnstone

By Rasha Goel

Rasha Goel is a 2X Emmy-nominated television host/producer and international correspondent. Her talent has led to opportunities such as giving … Read more ›

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’

Polite Society

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. 

[Read Related: Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani of Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ on Womanhood, Racism, and Issues Generations of Desi Women Still Struggle With]

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. 

Polite Society
Director Nida Manzoor, cinematographer Ashley Connor and actor Priya Kansara on the set of their film “Polite Society.”

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.

[Read Related: Ms. Marvel’s Iman Vellani and Mohan Kapur Talk Cultural Pride, Hollywood and Brown Representation]

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. 

Photo Credits: Focus Features LLC

By Nimarta Narang

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Nimarta grew up devouring Hindi movies, coming-of-age novels and one too many psychology textbooks. … Read more ›