It is so fascinating that despite Indians being literally everywhere, there continues to be such narrow-minded representation. Before starting the new Netflix show, ‘Never Have I Ever’, I had no expectations whatsoever – only curiosity for how they were going to navigate this narrative. But even then, I was disappointed. The first 2 episodes of this series are riddled with stereotypes and exaggerations that, to an Indian, are only humorous because of how unrelatable they are. Where an Indian mother yells at her daughter to not let her textbook touch the ground because it’s been blessed by the swami (I’ve never heard of this happening), but, doesn’t give her a tight slap when her daughter calls her a b**** (I’ve also never heard of this happening). And many other things that just felt… untrue? These introductory episodes into the series left me confused at best.
I found myself furiously checking who the writers were… after all, how did it go so wrong? Unsurprisingly perhaps, there weren’t that many Indian or South-Asian voices that seemed to be advising this narrative. The show is created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, and seemingly then, is mostly advised by Kaling for the necessary touch of authenticity. But knowing that an Indian is behind this project and a major creator is somehow what makes watching this show a tad offensive. When is it that South-Asians will finally put an end to getting a few laughs by making jokes out of arranged marriage? When is it that entertainers will stop looking to leading Indian characters being uptight and unsympathetic Indian aunties? Or better yet, make an Indian something other than a complete nerd. Utilising POC characters doesn’t need to be central to the narrative, but it can bring an unexplored perspective to a genre, which seemed to be the aim, but failed the test of execution.
Don’t get me wrong, the show as a whole is endearing and manages to reach a heartfelt ending. But the issue is that along the way, it re-enforces stereotypes which I, as an Indian who lives in Australia, continually strive to eradicate. I don’t think there are any issues with making fun of genuine Indian nuances – but somehow, this show lacks identifying those nuances. It doesn’t search for those intriguing things that make Indian families funny or distinguish the Indian experience from, well, any other. For example, there’s an enjoyable scene where one of the characters something along the lines of, ‘I love eating the ice-cream in the US, something other than pistachio’. When I saw this, I thought YES, that’s what I’m looking for. Observations that may be new to the Western audience because all they’ve seen is Rajesh Koothrapali, but oh so familiar to Indian audiences. Instead, it relies on the ‘same old’ concepts.
As I continued watching the show, trying to make sure I didn’t judge it too early, I did enjoy it. But to me, what made the show were character arcs which did not depend on those characters being South-Asian whatsoever. I get it, being about Indians doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they talk about – but why not make use of this distinguishing factor that ideally should’ve separated other teen rom-coms from this one?
There IS an episode dedicated to addressing the fact that Devi, the lead, doesn’t feel ‘Indian’ and doesn’t see it as a major part of her personality. That is totally understandable, but there’s no revelation at the end. No sense of closure to this perspective she has. Instead, the event she attends is focussed on rude and nosey aunties who aren’t respectful about her dad passing away – and that’s it. Why? Why make her an Indian at all if things that could make the show interesting and new are not going to be addressed? Such as exploring the identity issues that many individuals deal with in dealing with conflicts of their cultural (South-Asian) and environmental (Western) backgrounds. And if the show isn’t going to be about exploring that aspect, like ‘To all the boys I’ve loved before’, then there’s also no need for the only references to culture being pointed clichés.
I found the show quite disappointing and unrelatable, watching it from the perspective of an Australian-Indian. So, if not us, then who exactly was it aimed at? I was concerned that so many stereotypes were about to be perpetuated to so many people that would go forever uncorrected. There are so many funny things us Indians do that the show could have poked fun at. But instead, we were left with a show, created by a South-Asian, that somehow still chose to agree with the western perspective.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.