Ethnically multi-hyphenated Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series Never Have I Ever raised cries of both amusement and indignation with its portrayal of a south Indian girl leading an American way of life in California. With two successful seasons that won the hearts of critics and audiences alike, the show returns to Netflix with a third season in eight days.
The show revolves around Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian American high school girl from a Tamilian family who plans to climb the social ladder, get into an Ivy school and “be an atheist, and eat cheeseburgers with (her) white boyfriend”.
Never Have I Ever has raised the question of being culturally accurate, for it stands two steps away from outright cultural appropriation and two steps close to authentic representation. Devi’s character employs stereotypes like being an overachiever who’s not allowed to wear sleeveless clothing, but who is also allowed to independently lean towards the American end of the Indian American cultural spectrum.
Although there were concerns with the diversity of the cast being purely tokenistic, it turns out that although Never Have I Ever missed the mark of being a hundred per cent culturally accurate, it covered the Indian American experience very well.
The show is marvelled for several cultural accuracies, some of which are displayed with a hint of satire. The Ganesh Puja episode, for instance, raised eyebrows for reasons, good and bad. Some notable mentions in the episode include the gossipy Indian “Aunties”, the Bollywood dance and the sea of footwear. The stereotypical Hindi songs in the background didn’t fit the context and threw us off, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste. A range of emotions, from appreciation to criticism, can be experienced throughout the series.
Adding new flavours of culture and diversity to American television has always been a precarious yet thrilling move for creators of TV and cinema. Never Have I Ever is hard proof that we’ve come a long way from Amrish Puri playing a heart-ripping mythical tribal in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which carved out a despicable image from the Indian culture. Back then, the aim of integrating a foreign culture was less inclined towards inclusivity, and more towards collecting cheap laughs.
This show is Kaling’s attempt to illustrate the Indian American experience in particular and not the Indian experience per se. Although viewing the Indian culture via the American lens falls under the cultural appropriation, it won’t be right to expect authentic delivery from an experience that isn’t authentic, to begin with. Devi being born and brought up in California and never having visited India makes her prone to cultural appropriation because apparently, that is what she was surrounded with her entire life.
Parishka Gupta, a second-year Journalism Hons. student at Delhi University is an amateur travel journalist. Travel, food and culture, initially her home niche are now her strongest suits. Apart from these, Parishka developed a flair for global issues and the research and analysis process from her experience as a journalist in Model United Nations conferences. Parishka now runs a writing organisation called The Red Megaphone which works on bringing young writers into the spotlight. If she’s not working, you’ll find her belting out a song with the college a capella team. She spends her days hopping colleges of Delhi Univerisity, working out at home, interning for media organizations like Travelxp and Outlook Traveller and producing some of her best work as a student of journalism.