Ever since news came out that Mindy Kaling was producing a new Netflix teen comedy about a first-generation Indian American girl who navigates the struggle of high school, boys, and adolescence, my inner brown girl couldn’t stop screaming. The new series, “Never Have I Ever,” follows the story of young Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who resides in Southern California alongside her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and her over-achieving cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani).
It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story dealing with culture, identity and high-school woes, and one of the most relatable series of the year. I got a chance to chat with one of the leads, Richa Moorjani before the series premieres next week and she wouldn’t be more excited.
California-born Richa Moorjani beat out more than 15,000 others to make her series regular debut as Kamala. From her unconventional upbringing to getting her first real acting role on another of Mindy Kaling’s shows, Richa Moorjani tells us all about her life and how important it was to be a part of “Never Have I Ever.”
Richa, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into acting.
I grew up in the Bay Area, California. I was surrounded by music, art and culture from the day I was born and was put in Kathak and ballet classes at the age of 5. I developed a passion for storytelling and acting through my dance classes, and I did school plays and summer drama camps throughout my childhood/high school years. I can’t remember how or when I decided I wanted to become an actress, because it’s been my dream for as long as I can even remember.
As you know acting can be considered an “unconventional path” in the South Asian community, what has that journey been like with your family?
Well, I grew up in a pretty unconventional Indian household. My parents had a “love marriage,” unlike most people of their generation who had arranged marriages. They met in Berkeley, CA while my dad was getting his PhD there, and they started a Bollywood music band with their friends, which they still perform with 40 years later today! We also have several other artists in our family, including my sister who is a singer. Because our family is so passionate about the arts, I was lucky to always have their support and encouragement, which has been the single most important thing in helping me to survive in this challenging industry. That being said, there have been times where my parents were naturally worried about me when they saw me struggling for many years and asked me if I would consider going back to school or “getting a job”— and THAT led to some triggering conversations, but overall they have always believed in me and been my rock. When it comes to the South Asian community, I have thankfully received mostly love and positive encouragement, but I have also definitely faced judgement and several passive aggressive comments, however it’s never discouraged me from doing my work.
We’re so excited about your new series “Never Have I Ever,” which is now streaming on Netflix! What was it like auditioning for the show?
Also unconventional! As I’m sure you know, Mindy put out an open casting call on her Instagram for the 3 leads of the show (Devi, Kamala and Nalini) to which they received 15,000+ submissions. I was initially hesitant about self-submitting an audition, because I knew there would be thousands of girls responding, and I just felt like my tape would get lost in the mix. But I submitted anyway, and thank God I did—because from that tape, I got called in to do a screen test in front of Mindy and Lang Fisher. It just goes to show that when something is meant for you, you have to be ready for it and willing to put yourself out there, because otherwise you could miss out completely.
You’ve worked with Mindy Kaling in the past on “The Mindy Project,” how was this similar or different?
Yes I did! That was my first real acting job about a year after I moved to Los Angeles, 8 years ago! It was only one episode in the first season of the show, so I was only there for 1 or 2 days of shooting. I remember being completely in awe of Mindy the first time I met her, with her effortless confidence and unapologetic way of taking up space as a brown woman in this industry. My scene on The Mindy Project was actually a scene with Mindy in it (along with Ed Helms), which was such an incredible learning experience for a young brown girl like me who just recently moved to LA and was still trying to figure out how it all worked. Unfortunately, she was only behind the camera on this show, but nonetheless she was very much involved and always made sure us actors felt cared for and comfortable on set.
After watching the trailer for this show, I couldn’t help by scream “relatable” during every scene, how did you connect with this show after reading the script?
I connected to the script in many ways. I connected most with Kamala’s story, as a young South Asian woman balancing family/societal expectations and my own dreams/desires. I also connected with parts of Devi’s character, like desperately wanting to be cool, popular and liked by the hottest guy when I was in highschool, while also feeling like I wasn’t brown enough or American enough and trying to navigate my bicultural identity. And I think many people are going to relate to the universal themes on this show, so I’m not surprised that you screamed!
What are some key themes in the show that you can share with us?
I think that the key themes of this show are: identity, family, how culture/faith shapes our experiences growing up, how we deal with grief and change, friendship—and the one thing South Asian parents never want to talk about: adolescent sexuality.
The role you play in “Never Have I Ever” is this stunning overachieving cousin, Kamala, who is getting her Ph.D. for Caltech (a desi parent’s dream), how did you get into character for this role? Was it something you could relate to?
It would definitely have been my parents’ dream for me to get a PhD, but this is probably as close as I’ll ever get, Mumma and Papa! I related to Kamala right from the beginning when I read the scripts. I think we are both ambitious, independent young women who would travel across the world alone to pursue our dreams (like when I moved to Mumbai by myself for a couple of years to pursue acting), but we both feel torn at times between what we really want and wanting to make the people closest to us happy. I think we both have high expectations of ourselves and the pressure we feel from ourselves and others can be suffocating. The one thing I had to work on the most for the role was the accent—which I had a dialect coach for and also watched hours and hours of YouTube videos. It also helped that I am half South-Indian and have many relatives who speak with a similar accent to what I was going for.
Before we wrap up today’s interview, I do want to do a lightning round to learn more about you and your quirks! Describe the show in three words!
February 2, 2023February 11, 2023 7min readBy Arun S.
Kevin Wu, previously known as KevJumba, is an American YouTuber, from Houston, Texas, with more than 2.68 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 323 million views. His content consists of vlogs, social commentary, musical parodies and more. Wu also streams on Twitch and has released original music as well as freestyles. His most popular YouTube video is titled “Nice Guys” with Ryan Higa. Wu has also worked with many individuals including A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. He has also appeared in movies such as “Hang Loose,” “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” “Man Up,” and more. Wu is one of the first original YouTubers gaining popularity in 2008 and even had another channel, titled JumbaFund, now known as Team Jumba. Continue reading to learn more about Kevin Wu’s journey!
We really enjoyed the project ‘Underneath the Lights.’ On the track “WHY U IN LA” the lyrics, “Don’t know who I might be, it might surprise me. I could be a hypebeast, That’s nothing like me, It’s so enticing.” How do you feel this speaks to the idea of self-discovery? What have you learned about yourself, diving back into making content?
I love that song we did. The artist who sang those lyrics his name is Zooty. I really provided the energy and direction for the musical piece, but I give credit to my producer Jonum and Zooty credit for the lyrics. Both guys are a slightly different generation, gen-Z, whereas I grew up as a millennial. I find that I left a lot on the table when I left YouTube at 23, so when I work with gen-Z I have so much that I want to give. Coming back to YouTube this time around, it’s all about self-reliance. Coming from movies and television, you have to depend on people to get a better product. But with YouTube, I’m going back to my roots and putting my wit and effort into every part of the process again (writing, directing, performing, producing, editing). I want the result to be authenticity and a homegrown feeling.
When you started your YouTube channel you were known for your vlogs and social commentary. How do you feel about the new age of content creation — where content is in surplus but individuals aren’t feeling the content?
It’s hard to say whether or not individuals are or aren’t feeling content — the taste is just so wide now. It’s like living in Los Angeles; food is very competitive, and when picking a restaurant you have every ethnic variety and even fusion foods. I imagine opening a restaurant in LA to be very competitive and the attention to detail in what you make has to be authentic or hit a certain demographic. I feel on the Internet, YouTube does a decent job of catering to your sensibilities, the so-called algorithm. However, the personal connection you get with content creators has somewhat been shifted, and now it’s become more interest-based (ie gaming, how-to, music, politics, etc.)
How do you feel the original algorithm has changed, and what do you miss most about that time?
I don’t remember talking about algorithms back in 2010 to 2012. People watched their favorite Youtubers because their homepage included their subscriptions first and foremost, and then if your subscriptions hadn’t posted anything new, you would typically check the most popular page. Then trending became a thing and now you have algorithms generating your timeline based on a bunch of data. I think it’s forced creators to think externally and hanging onto identities i.e. what are my interests? Am I a gamer? Am I a streamer?
We parodied your music video for “Nice Guys” for our orchestra music camp skit back in high school. If Chester, Ryan, and you, had to recreate “Nice Guys” today, would you focus on the concept of self-love for the current generation? We also really loved “Shed a Tear.”
I definitely think self-love would be a very nice theme. Recreating it would be nice, actually. I think it’s hard to get three people to all be in the same room again, especially after leading different lives. But “Nice Guys” was something special for each one of us, and Chester See deserves a lot of credit because of his musical talent. It’s made me realize today the impact of music. I really enjoy the expression of music because it forces you to be more artistic, versus just saying what’s on your mind. Like poetry, or hearing harmonies.
You’ve worked with many individuals and groups in the past including, A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. If you could create content with any group of individuals who would be your dream collaborators?
At this stage in my life, I really enjoy coming back and rekindling those creative connections and checking in with previous friends or acquaintances. Doing a video with Ryan Higa, Jeremy Lin, Chester See, David Choi, Wong Fu, Jamie Chung, those would all be very fun. But the first step would be to just see how they’re doing. So that’s the closest thing to a best case scenario for me. I’m not trying to force any collaborations at the moment (haha!). Unless it’s convenient.
As an NBA fan you expressed you would like to talk more about basketball on Ryan’s “Off the Pill Podcast.” How do you feel watching sports and has playing sports helped you become more in tune with yourself?
After going through a lot of physical adversity after my car accident, reconnecting with sports has been really helpful. I played basketball for a while and I’d like to get back into soccer. I wanted to talk about basketball on Ryan’s podcast because I was still dipping my toes into Internet content/social media and didn’t want to talk too much about myself at the time.
As a content creator how do you balance not letting validation get to your head and authentically connecting with your audience?
We all seek validation. It’s innate, but it’s about where you seek it. Nowadays I remember to validate myself first, by starting with my mind and body. After a while, you can get a sense of when you need validation versus being totally unconscious of it. Sometimes that sense of validation is important, so we know to check in with our parents, or see if a friend needs positive feedback. To connect with the audience, that’s like number five in my priority list (haha!). Having an audience can be scary; you definitely want to be in tune with yourself first.
How do you deal with comments consisting of “I miss the old KevJumba?”
As live streaming has become a new form of content now, how have you enjoyed live streaming on Twitch for the Head In The Clouds Festival both in 2021 and 2022? We really enjoyed seeing Ylona Garcia sing “Nice Guys!”
It’s fun, I enjoy live streaming and I really appreciate 88rising and Amazon Music for inviting me both years to be the host for their livestream.
What was the decision behind putting your family in your videos?
I put my Dad in my videos accidentally; we were on a ski trip. I think people responded really positively in the comments, and then I just sat down had a conversation with him on camera, and it became a hit. After that he just became his own character. I think I tend to come alive more when I am interacting with someone on camera.
We really liked seeing you upload videos to Team Jumba. Is the mission still to donate earnings to a charity that viewers suggest?
At the moment, no. The Supply, which was the charity I donated to before, has since shut down. I also don’t make much money on YouTube anymore, since I was inactive on my channel for a while, so that format from 2009 will be difficult to replicate.
We really enjoyed the ‘KevJumba and Zooty Extended Play,’ specifically the track “With You in the Clouds” featuring fuslie. How has Valorant inspired your music as well as other forms of content creation?
The album was really experimental. I find the personal connections I made in gaming to be the most enlivening. “With You in the Clouds” was inspired by TenZ and, since he’s such a legendary figure in the pro FPS community, we had to do a worthy tribute. I think paying tribute to the things you like is a really great way to think about content creation.
How do you feel your childhood experiences in Houston, and playing soccer, have shaped you to chase your dreams of acting? How have you enjoyed acting in comparison to YouTube?
I love acting. It’s a wondrous lens at which to see your relationship with others. I find that in studying acting, you are often really studying the human experience or the mind. It’s like learning psychology but you are on your feet, or you are reading great theater. Playing soccer and growing up in Houston don’t really contribute directly to why I enjoy acting, but I very much enjoy coming from Houston and thriving in soccer. It made me commit to something and seeing how consistently “showing up” can really ground your childhood and prove to be valuable, later in life.
How do you feel we can uplift each other across the Asian diaspora and unify to create ripple effects of representation?
I think listening is probably the best thing you can do. Just genuinely hearing about something, or someone, helps you really invest in them during that time that you are there. So I think that’s probably the first step.
What made you go back to school and finish your degree at the University of Houston in Psychology?
No one reason in particular. I was also studying acting at the time back in 2017-2018 when I completed the degree, so it was just testing my limits and seeing what I could balance. I finished it online.
What are your upcoming plans?
Just experimenting on YouTube for now. Making videos with my own effort.
Your first video was uploaded back in 2007 and was titled ‘Backyard,’ where you are dancing to a song called “Watch Me” by Little Brother, off of the “The Minstrel Show.” We also really enjoyed your video with Ryan Higa titled “Best Crew vs Poreotics.” Are you still dancing these days?
Yes. The body does what the body wants.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Nothing in particular. I try to let my mind flow when I answer questions. I may have jumped to conclusions before fully investing in some of the questions, so I apologize. If you are reading, I thank you for your time and patience. I also thank Brown Girl Magazine for putting together a vast array of questions that allow my mind to stretch and work out a bit. I hope you find a stronger connection to your own truths, and I hope I did not disturb those in any way. Regards.
South Asian representation in entertainment and media is rapidly increasing nationwide. “We are making strides in the industry, and I am excited about the journey ahead,” said Indian American actor Teresa Patel, known for her roles as Paramedic Harvell in the NBC medical drama, “New Amsterdam,” and Neela Patel in the ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live.”
As a rising star, Patel is breaking barriers for South Asian women nationwide. We, at Brown Girl Magazine, had the opportunity to speak with Patel, a pharmacist by day and an actor by night, about her journey into acting and how she balances both careers.
While her love for Bollywood is common among South Asians, her background and continued work in pharmacy are what make her stand out the most among other creatives.
“I went into pharmacy school knowing that I wanted to do both,” Patel said.
She added that while she knew she was interested in both, she wasn’t sure how to pursue them initially. She never let that dream or passion die down.
“I’ve always known I wanted to pursue acting. I knew I would have to pave a path to pursue acting, and I figured I will work as a pharmacist until I could make it possible — because acting is an investment.”
Patel shared her experiences and emphasized the importance of financial stability, especially for women.
“I believe in strong independent women who can finance their own dreams and build the life they want to live. You don’t want to have to rely on anybody else to do it for you.”
She shared that while it was something her parents did want her to pursue, being a pharmacist was something she eventually loved doing and ultimately helped her pursue her dreams of acting, due to the financial stability it provided as she built her acting career.
“I enjoy what I do and that’s what I love about the life I created. I have grown to love my pharmacy life and I love pursuing acting. I feel fulfilled with both.”
When talking about balancing two demanding jobs, Patel walked us through a day in her life. We spoke about the importance of organization and how she managed to juggle both, but of course, it didn’t all come easy. She shared how she worked during the day and simultaneously enrolled in an acting conservatory which she attended in the evenings.
She also noted that she had to make a lot of personal sacrifices since her time was limited with work, training, and auditioning. But despite how difficult the times were or how much she initially “struggled” to find that balance, Patel shared that those were some of her “most memorable” times.
“It felt like a hustle, and I had the chance to experience two very different parts of my life. Looking back, a lot of my growth as a person happened during this time — which is what makes it so memorable for me.”
Speaking about representation and how the media has changed over time, Patel noted that while South Asians are still often given stereotypical roles, recently, a change can be seen in the roles they have been playing and creating.
“There’s just more inspiration and more out there now,” she said, speaking of the different emerging writers, actors, and shows depicted in the media.
“South Asians are starting to be seen as leads, as people who can have love interests, who have their own issues, not just white-collar professionals on screen.”
She added that change cannot happen overnight but is slowly occurring in media spaces. Patel also noted that more roles that don’t just highlight one’s identity are needed, adding that roles should not just represent a culture but be able to be played by anyone, despite identity or color.
Reflecting on roles that emphasize characteristics only associated with one culture, she said:
“Women have so many types of backgrounds, that’s what I want to see more. A role shouldn’t be just for South Asians,” Patel said. “Like any woman should be able to take a role, my identity shouldn’t define what roles I can get.”
Outside of acting and being a pharmacist, Patel wears several other hats including directing her own short film. Without giving any spoilers — we learned that Patel’s film will revolve around the bond between herself, her sister, and her nephew.
“Instead of waiting for the right role or opportunity, I realized I can invest in myself and create my own.”
In terms of advice, she would give to others,
“I don’t believe we are all meant to do only one thing all of our lives. We are full of potential, but you do have to believe in it and try your hardest to live up to it,” she said.
She noted that people often “glamourize” the acting world and forget to talk about what brought them to where they are, emphasizing the importance of training, marketing, and networking — all of which can cost money.
. “While you have a full-time job, you can still invest in yourself financially to live out your dreams.”
Patel can be seen in American medical drama “New Amsterdam” on NBC.The show currently has five seasons available.
It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice”and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms.
Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.
“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”
A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.
It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress.
“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”
Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.
“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”
Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.
Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.
“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”
Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.
“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”
The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan.
And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”.
“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”
Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?
A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.
James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing.
“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”
Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.
As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.
Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!