Mindy Kaling‘s Netflix series Never Have I Ever has become a fan favourite, quite literally. The show had topped the charts last year and continues to with its second season this year. In an exclusive interview with Grazia, Richa Moorjani chatted to us about Kamala’s character, South Asian diaspora and mental health.
MASSIVE congratulations on Never Have I Ever Season 2! How do you feel about this season in retrospect? Does it align with your career goals?
I am so grateful to be a part of this series, and I absolutely loved the character development and storyline of season 2. I felt that the writers did an incredible job of taking the best parts of season 1 and making them even better in the new season, and we had some amazing and hilarious new characters too! As a 2nd generation South Asian woman and artist, this is truly a dream project and completely aligns with my mission to amplify and highlight South Asian voices and stories through my work.
What stands out to you about Kamala as a character? Do you resonate with her character?
I absolutely love Kamala. I think she is the type of young woman who is constantly underestimated, but she proves time and time again (and especially in season 2) that she is a force to be reckoned with. She just occasionally needs a little reminder or extra push from someone to use her voice to get what she wants and deserves. That’s something I can completely relate to. I think so many women of colour like myself (and Kamala) doubt ourselves and are afraid to take up space sometimes because of the messages we’ve received throughout our lives about not coming across as “difficult”. But once we are able to harness our inner power, we could rule the world if we wanted to.
I bet you get this question a lot but how did you adapt to her accent? Was it a long process?
The accent comes pretty naturally to me, having spent a lot of time in India throughout my life and being surrounded by friends and family with similar accents. That being said, I wanted to make sure I did everything I could do to be as authentic as possible, so I worked with a dialect coach, took Tamil lessons on my own time between shooting and spent many hours watching YouTube videos. It’s something I worked on throughout shooting, and I will continue to work on.
How did you aim to address the South Asian diaspora through your character on the show?
I don’t know that I aimed to address the South Asian diaspora through my character specifically. My goal was to make Kamala a fully fleshed 3-dimensional character with all the complexities and nuances of a young woman who moved across the world from India to pursue her dreams. The writers already did a great job of making Kamala such a dynamic and interesting character, I just had to show up and bring myself to the role. Kamala’s story has resonated with so many South Asians around the world (as well as non-South Asians), and that makes me incredibly happy.
We know you’ve worked with Mindy Kaling previously in The Mindy Project. How has she influenced your work, if she has?
I am beyond grateful to Mindy for paving the way for so many brown women in every part of this industry, and especially for creating opportunities that have literally been life-changing for me. I am constantly blown away by how much Mindy does as a producer, writer, creator, actress, author, the list goes on. It’s motivated me to also take it upon myself to take charge of my career and never get complacent. Specifically, she has inspired me to want to have my own production company, which is my next personal goal.
I read that you’re a staunch advocate for mental health. How have you tried to raise conversation about it? Do you think there should be more dialogue about it, especially in relation to topics like the South Asian diaspora?
Mental health is a topic that is very important to me. And it is part of my mission as a storyteller and person with a platform to raise awareness about it and help destigmatize it. There is still, unfortunately, a major culture of silence around mental health, especially in South Asian and communities of colour, and I believe the media can be very powerful when it comes to shining a light on these issues. Never Have I Ever, for example, normalizes a South Asian teenage girl going to therapy and working through depression and grief, which is something we’ve never really seen in TV/Film before. Through my own platform, I try to share resources and talk about it as much as I can, and I am also currently working on producing a project based on a true story of a young South Asian woman who suffers from bipolar disorder.
As Never Have I Ever represents Indian heritage in a meaningful way, we learn the real dilemma faced by South Asian diasporic subjects. With the youth trying to acclimate to Western culture and the elderly hold onto their traditions, the show acts as a cultural balm for many.