I have never related more to a character like Devi Vishwakumar. I may not be Indian but while watching Minky Kaling’s new Netflix show, Never Have I Ever I instantly had flashbacks to being in high school. I was an outspoken Afghan-Canadian 14-year-old with braces. Just like Devi I wasn’t the popular girl in school, my mother constantly compared me to my cousins (still does), and I struggled with my religious identity. My immigrant parents made it their mission to constantly remind me of the importance of school and about the sacrifices they made for me.
While watching the show I instantly noticed the diverse cast. It was nice to watch a show where the lead character wasn’t a white girl. The only brown girls I’ve ever seen star as the lead of a television show are Mindy Kaling herself and Priyanka Chopra. Being Canadian, I was thrilled to find out the lead actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is Canadian. It was nice to see Devi’s gal pal crew consist of, “glamorous women of colour.” In high school, the majority of my friends were other women of colour. It’s just easier to have friends from diverse ethnic backgrounds because they understand your struggles without to much explanation. I don’t have to spend forever explaining why I couldn’t go to the after-party or why I had to stay home to help my mom clean because guests arrive. It was great to see young women of colour portrayed as smart women with ambition, instead of being eroticized. Devi’s mom Nalini Vishwakumar is a dermatologist, Devi’s best friend Fabiola Torres is the captain of the robotics team and hopes to go to MIT, her other bestie, Eleanor Wong and president of the drama club, hopes to become a budding actress. Devi herself is an A+ student with a staunch goal to attend Princeton University.
Devi concocts a plan for her and her girl gang to become popular during their sophomore year. Personally, I didn’t have a crave to be popular to the extent Devi does. I’m sure everyone who attends high school knows who the popular kids were. Of course, I wondered what it would be like to be popular, but I loved my friends. I do know for sure there was no one at my high school who was as good looking as Paxton Hall-Yoshida.
Towards the end of season one, Devi ends up in a love triangle between teen heartthrob Paxton Hall-Yoshida and her nemesis Ben Gross. I can’t relate to being in a love triangle. However, I did notice a pattern on Mindy Kaling’s show The Mindy Project where the main character Mindy Lahiri mostly had white boyfriends. Although, Paxton is half Japanese I hope Devi does not fall into the same pattern. I would love to see Devi with a young Michael B. Jordan.
It was refreshing to see a young teenage girl see a therapist. When I was in high school nobody ever discussed mental health. They were no classes that taught students how to handle trauma or depression, only now are schools starting to teach about the impotence of mental health. On the show, Devi sees a therapist (played by Niecy Nash) to help cope with her father’s death and being shortly paralyzed thereafter. In typical teenage fashion, Devi doesn’t take her therapist seriously nor does she make an effort to take her advice. I think it’s great for young girls watching to see that it’s okay to get professional help if it’s needed.
In the past Mindy Kaling was ridiculed for being an Indian-American comedian who never spoke about her Indian heritage and that her writing supports a “desire for whiteness.” In an article for Vice, Navi Lamba writes that she, “yearns for models like Kaling, because they are not readily available, which makes it ultra disappointing that she doesn’t recognize her complexity as a non-white, female comedian. Kaling instead completely rejects these aspects of her identity, and chooses to implant visions of white ideals, in an industry that is already saturated with “Alexis Bledel Blue” eyes.” Watching the Mindy Project I couldn’t help but notice the majority of the characters were white, aside from Mindy herself and Tamra. When asked how her south Asian background influences your character development in The Mindy Project, she answers by saying, “I don’t speak any Indian languages. I’m Hindu but I don’t know much about my religion.”
However, I do believe Mindy discovered her Indian identity by learning more about the Hindu religion and incorporating the religion and culture in Never Have I Ever. In an article in Vulture, Mindy explains her writing staff is made up of several Indian writers. Mindy tells Vulture, “There are some things that I pulled straight from my childhood that I wanted to see, like blessing my textbooks at the beginning of the school year and praying to a shrine at home.” One episode was dedicated to Devi and her family celebrate Ganesh Puja, a day where Hindu’s celebrate the birth of Ganesh. According to the LA Times, “Giriraj Bhandari, a Hindu priest served as a consultant on the episode.” In order to see more of her childhood experiences on tv, Mindy included Ganesh Puja on the show, similar to how she wrote the Diwali episode for The Office. In the episode, we see Devi struggle with her Indian identity and being raised by immigrant parents. Like Devi, I was raised with immigrant parents but was born in Canada. My childhood experience was much different than my parents. I struggled to figure out what being a Muslim-Canadian meant while they found it difficult to raise their children in a foreign country. I appreciate seeing Devi struggle with who she wants to be and the process of prioritizing what’s important to her.
Overall, there isn’t one character that I didn’t like. I love John McInroe as the narrator. The dialogue is filled with references to pop culture like Riverdale, Harry Potter, it-couple Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid. I thought incorporating Tik Tok was very clever. I’m excited to see what happens next. Ben is beyond sweet but I have a feeling she’s going to pick her long time crush Paxton.
Feature Image via Netflix